Florida’s Treasure Coast is bracing for what could be a massively transformative leap in transportation, with the recent news of the highly-anticipated Brightline rail service’s expansion generating intense speculation and widespread attention.
With plans to expand its network with a Brightlight Treasure Coast station, the service has firmly set its sights on this beautiful region and created a promise to reshape the entire local travel landscape. At the heart of the expansion speculation, however, is the pivotal decision of whether the new station for Brightline Treasure Coast will be in Martin County or St. Lucie County.
There are several interesting proposals on the table, with each one promising a unique set of advantages along with district challenges, making the decision far from straightforward. In this post, we’re going to dig into the details of each one, investigating the strengths and weaknesses of each possible location, and looking at all the complex underlying factors.
Brightline’s Expansion Plans: Will Brightline Stop In The Treasure Coast?
They will, and sooner than many may think. As the Treasure Coast buzzes with anticipation, Brightline is setting its sights on an ambitious new expansion right into the heart of the Treasure Coast. But this new expansion is more than just a new route, it holds the potential for greater connectivity and economic rejuvenation, and by 2028 Brightline hopes to be able to launch a new, state-of-the-art station in either St. Lucie or Martin County.
The race to be the chosen host for this modern marvel has been as vibrant as the two coastal counties vying for favor, and incredibly competitive. Overall, there have been five proposals, each one packed with unique promise and potential, that were submitted before the submission deadline of December 22nd, 2023 that encapsulated the essence of innovation and general community benefit.
Brightline, well-known for its seamless service and sleek trains, plans to announce the final choice during the first quarter of 2024. This decision isn’t about finding a place for a new train station, it’s about having a vision for the Treasure Coast future seen through a lens of accessibility, growth, and regional integration.
As we get closer by the day to the inevitable announcement, there is a raw excitement in everyone in the area. Each proposal carries with it the hopes and aspirations of the community it’s advocating for, each hoping to become the newest hub in Brightline’s expanding network. This newest station won’t just be a place to catch a train or have some tourists come in, it’s going to be a major catalyst for change and progress in the Treasure Coast.
The Stuart-Martin County Proposal
The Stuart-Martin County proposal was created with a vision to blend modern convenience with the area’s charm. The proposal suggests building the station on county-owned land at Southeast Flagler Avenue and Southeast Stypmann Boulevard, which is a location that offers both practical benefits and distinctive scenic beauty. The site is also located strategically nearby to the Martin County Courthouse, and the iconic Stuart water tower, which would make it easily accessible as well as a beautiful potential landmark.
This proposal encompasses not just the train station, but also an accompanying parking garage, and a quaint cafe, all designed to add to the overall convenience and appeal of the traveler’s experience. The proposed financial arrangement is a partnership model, with the county and Brightline sharing the construction costs, with each contributing up to $15 million in funding. The City of Stuart will build the parking garage, which allows the expenses to be capped at $30 million and demonstrates a strong local civic commitment to the project.
The Martin County Tourist Development Council has also pledged $800,000 to help Brightline with marketing efforts, like ticket purchases, that highlight the region’s dedication to making this proposal successful.
It does come with challenges, however, which include the requirement for Brightline to pay half of the station construction costs, potentially amounting to $15 million, which poses a significant financial commitment for the company. However, this may be within their comfort range when taken in the context of other proposals. Additionally, the close proximity to local attractions and affluent neighborhoods may raise concerns over traffic and landscape integration.
The Fort Pierce Proposals
Fort Pierce is another Treasure Coast location known for its picturesque waterfront and planned growth, and it has also thrown its hat in the ring with multiple compelling proposals that showcase the ambition and foresight of the city. Two separate proposals have been submitted from this vibrant community, each offering a unique take on what the Brightline Treasure Coast station could bring to the table.
The city’s own proposal suggests using public funds to fully cover the costs of building both the station and an expanded parking garage. The proposal would put the station along Depot Drive, near the Sunrise Theater, which would help integrate it seamlessly into the heart of the city and its cultural scene. The financial model for this proposal is intriguing since it relieves Brightline of any costs associated with construction, which may make it a more economically viable option in their eyes.
To sweeten the deal, the St. Lucie County Tourist Development Council has pledged $250,000 for ridership vouchers during the first three years of operation. On top of that, Indian River State College has made a commitment to purchase 5,000 passes for full-time students, ensuring a steady stream of users from day one.
However, some of the challenges associated with this proposal include an issue with property ownership, as part of the land earmarked for development is privately owned. While the mayor has indicated that the owner is a willing seller, the relocation of existing tenants and potential logistical hurdles could introduce delays. For Brightline, which is intensely focused on adhering to its 2028 operational goal, any prospect of delay could be a dealbreaker.
Audubon Development Proposal
The Audubon Development proposal is an ambitious and multifaceted vision for the Brightline Treasure Coast station, highlighting a blend of urban revitalization and radical transit solutions. Located a few blocks north of the Forth Pierce city proposal, along Second Street, and near the King’s Landing development site, this proposal offers a comprehensive approach.
A central element of this proposal is the establishment of the new station, but also an area of mixed-use development. This plan includes 103 apartments and a culinary school operated by Indian River State College which brings a unique blend of residential, educational, and transportation elements to the project.
When it comes to the finances of this proposal, Audubon’s offer is compelling. The company offers to shoulder 100% of the construction costs, which would eliminate a significant financial hurdle for Brightline. Additionally, they’ll offer a lease rate of just $1 per year. To sweeten the deal even more, Audubon CEO Dale Matteson has committed to sharing 10% of the annual net profits from the apartment rentals with Brightline, providing an ongoing revenue stream.
But as good as this all sounds, there are some considerable challenges. Audubon’s track record with the King’s Landing project raises questions about the company’s ability to deliver on its promises. Despite receiving approval in 2019, the King’s Landing development has not yet seen “vertical construction”, due to delays caused by the pandemic and unforeseen infrastructure delays, which may scare off the deadline-focused Brightline.
Comparing The Options
Comparing the options of Stuart-Martin County, Fort Pierce, and Audubon Development, there are several critical factors that are going to need consideration during Brightline’s decision-making process. The biggest is going to be financial viability, which puts Audubon and Fort Pierce in front, as they’re putting up funds for construction, as opposed to the Martin County cost-sharing model.
When it comes to location, Stuart’s proximity to affluent communities and downtown areas suggests potential for high ridership, while Fort Pierce offers a more substantial infrastructure with planned future growth, and Audubon’s mixed-use development promises added value but is shadowed by execution risks.
Ultimately, the final decision is likely going to hinge on internal financials that the public just isn’t privy to, while also balancing long-term revenue potential and the unique importance of each location in relation to the Treasure Coast’s connectivity and growth.
As Brightline weighs the options for its new Treasure Coast Station, whatever the final decision is, it will dramatically alter the regional connectivity and potential for future growth.