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Commissioner Steele seeks money to help pay for Brevard Brightline station

by Staff

Brightline appears poised to add a passenger rail stop in Cocoa — that is, if somebody else ponies up the $50 million to $100 million to build the station.

Brevard County Commission Chair Jason Steele says he met recently with top Brightline officials about having a stop in Cocoa as part of the company’s Orlando-to-Miami route. Among the attendees at Steele’s office was P. Mike Reininger, CEO of Brightline Holdings.

Steele said he agreed to help the company find sources of funding for a Brevard County station. Among them could be a tourism capital grant from money generated by the county’s 5% tourist development tax on hotel rooms, vacation rentals and other short-term rentals.

In addition to being County Commission chair, Steele chairs the Brevard County Tourist Development Council, which issues recommendations on tourism capital grants to the County Commission for final approval.

Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization has already agreed to earmark $15.5 million for the station from federal funds it receives.

Outlook for rail service: Brevard officials hope to get Brightline train stop, but that could be years away

Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization Executive Director Georganna Gillette said she is pleased to hear about the discussions between Steele and Brightline officials about lining up additional money to build a station.

“I’m very happy that conversations are really beginning,” Gillette said. “The funding piece is going to be critical” in the process of landing a Brightline stop and building a station.

Gillette said Steele’s estimate of the station cost of $50 million to $60 million is lower than the $80 million to $100 million that TPO officials were anticipating.

In reality, the cost of a potential station is undetermined at this point, and could run anywhere from $50 million to $100 million, depending on the station’s size and configuration, and the cost of building materials when the station is under construction, among other factors.

Brightline currently has stops at Orlando International Airport, and in West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, Aventura and Miami. It also is planning a station along the Treasure Coast, potentially in Fort Pierce or Stuart. There have been five proposals submitted for a Treasure Coast station, and Brightline expects to choose one of them by the end of March. The Treasure Coast station is targeted to open in 2028.

The submissions to Brightline for a Treasure Coast station include various funding proposals.

For example, one submitted by the city of Stuart and Martin County government calls for construction of a station on county-owned property near the Martin County Courthouse. The proposal calls for Martin County and Brightline to each be responsible for half the station construction costs, up to $15 million each. Stuart would build the parking garage, up to a maximum cost of $30 million. If that site is selected, the Martin County Tourist Development Council would commit $800,000 to assist Brightline with its marketing efforts, including up to $200,000 that could be used for ticket purchases.

Under a competing proposal from Fort Pierce, the city would borrow $20 million to build a station. That includes $6 million to add two floors to a parking garage. As incentives to bolster Fort Pierce’s bid, the St. Lucie County Tourist Development Council pledged to spend $250,000 on ridership vouchers for the first three years of operations, and Indian River State College is pledging to buy 5,000 passes for full-time students.

It’s possible that Brightline would use the same process for seeking a station site in Brevard County after the Treasure Coast station decision is made, through issuing a request for proposals from public and private entities interested in spearheading a Brevard project.

Brightline trains pass through Brevard County 32 times a day — 16 in each direction, from early morning to late evening — on their roughly 3½-hour trip between Orlando and Miami. But the trains do not stop here.

The rail company has not committed to a specific location for a Brevard station, if it chooses one.

Brightline declined to comment for this story, indicating that it has nothing new to discuss at this time about a Brevard station.

However, during a Dec. 19 Cocoa City Council meeting, Jose Gonzalez, executive vice president for development at Florida East Coast Industries, the parent company of Brightline, said Brightline remains “very committed” to having a station in Cocoa.

“We know the location,” Gonzalez said. “It’s not a secret.”

A previous Transportation Planning Organization study zeroed in on Cocoa as the preferred location for a Brightline stop within Brevard.

Among the factors: Brightline owns land in Cocoa. Cocoa is near such tourism-oriented destinations as Port Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. And the Brightline trains must slow down in the Cocoa area, as they switch from an west-to-east configuration between Orlando and Cocoa, to a north-to-south configuration from Cocoa to Miami.

“I am confident, in the end, that there is going to be a Brightline station, and it’s going to be in the city of Cocoa,” Cocoa City Manager Stockton Whitten said. “I’m working hard to make it a reality.”

Space Coast Office of Tourism Executive Director Peter Cranis told members of the Tourist Development Council that he is anticipates the TDC and its Capital Facilities Committee will get a request for a capital grant to help pay for the station. But Cranis said he has no details on what entity would make that request, how much would be requested or when the request would be submitted.

“Brightline is not going to pay to build that station,” Cranis said. “So if we want a stop here in Brevard County, it’s going to have to come from various sources of funds.”

Steele said he is optimistic that Brevard will get a Brightline stop, most likely in Cocoa.

“The likelihood of us getting a station here is very, very high,” Steele told his fellow Tourist Development Council members. “They already own the land there (in Cocoa). There’s a million reasons why it should go at the Cocoa curve. And, in my opinion, we’re going to end up getting a station as long as we can contribute towards that station. So it look very, very, very promising.”

Steele said he expects the station will help boost tourism to the Space Coast, as well.

“In my opinion, this is the most important thing that could happen to Brevard County in a long period of time,” Steele said. “I mean, it’s just huge. It’s exciting and new to me, and, hopefully, we’ll get it.”

Keith Burbank of Treasure Coast Newspapers contributed to this story.

Dave Berman is business editor at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Berman at [email protected], on X at @bydaveberman and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dave.berman.54

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