Rail Firm Appears On Track To Transform Fort Lauderdale

all aboard floridaOn a ragged stretch of downtown Fort Lauderdale straddling the railroad tracks, a rebirth is coming.

All Aboard Florida, the company that plans to launch Orlando-to-Miami roundtrip passenger rail service, has been quietly assembling land in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

The scope of its deals — covering a large swath north of Broward Boulevard near the train tracks — has officials and activists saying the area’s blight could be erased. Though details have been scarce, the company has said it plans a passenger rail station downtown, and will surround it with new development. Hotel rooms, housing, retail, office space and a new courthouse and government center are among the possibilities.

The company, a subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries based in Coral Gables, declined to talk about its specific plans. But property records and interviews with officials who’ve been briefed by All Aboard Florida reveal a hint of what’s to come:

• In just the past year, All Aboard has spent more than $17 million assembling land in the deteriorating area from Northwest Fifth Avenue to Andrews Avenue, and from Broward Boulevard north to Fourth Street. Among the purchases are the site of the former Jerk Machine restaurant on Northwest Second Street, and a large tract next to City View townhomes. The company also bought land just west of the tracks, a half-block north of Broward Boulevard, for its planned rail station and parking, land records show.

• All Aboard has its eye on a prime parcel owned by the city of Fort Lauderdale, and proposes a land swap. The city would give up the site, on Andrews Avenue and Northwest Second Street, and in return would gain land along the tracks just south of Southeast 17th Street. That property would be used for a fire station and a maintenance facility for the coming The Wave lightrail system, City Manager Lee Feldman said. The swap will be discussed by the City Commission on May 20.

• All Aboard also wants a site on Broward Boulevard spanning Northwest Fourth to Second avenues where a state office building stands. State officials confirmed there have been inquiries by All Aboard but said the value of the site would have to be studied. “We would have to protect taxpayer dollars,” said Ben Wolf, communications director for the state’s Department of Management Services.

• The Broward County Transit bus terminal adjacent to the railroad tracks is prime land for an All Aboard project, directly across from the planned rail station. County officials had a lukewarm reaction, though, to the idea of relocating the bus terminal, county Transportation Director Chris Walton told commissioners in March.

• A city-county government complex in the same area has been discussed, because both Fort Lauderdale and Broward County are considering replacing their current buildings, Broward Commissioner Tim Ryan said. A new federal courthouse downtown also is being sought, opening the possibility it could be part of the redevelopment around the rail station.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said the vision All Aboard has for the railway station is “exciting” for the city.

“If we work this out, it could be a transformer,” Seiler said. “The opportunities are endless.”

All Aboard has issued no drawings or details, and wouldn’t talk about the land already purchased, or land that’s being sought.

“At this time, there are no site plans/renderings available and All Aboard Florida cannot provide specifics on land use,” Lauren Dunaj at Finn Partners, a consultant for All Aboard, said in an email.

In a written statement to the Sun Sentinel, All Aboard President Michael Reininger said, “we have plans to develop additional parcels surrounding our station as a mixed-use transit oriented development, encouraging the increasingly popular social, cultural and business environment.”

He said the Fort Lauderdale station “will revitalize the area north of Broward Boulevard” and serve as “a key gateway into Fort Lauderdale and Broward County.”

The railroad company plans stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando,and says it will launch the new passenger service in 2016. Currently, only freight trains run on the Florida East Coast tracks.

All Aboard Florida will run 16 trains each way, each day, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., offering a trip from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando lasting two hours and 20 minutes, or a three-hour trip from Miami.

The plans are under scrutiny by the Federal Rail Administration now, which will issue an environmental impact statement soon.

The All Aboard Florida project also will be subject to approvals from the U.S. Coast Guard, because of waterway crossings, including at the New River in Fort Lauderdale, and from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Besides the new Orlando-to-Miami system, geared toward tourists and business travelers, the planned downtown Fort Lauderdale lightrail system, The Wave, will run a block away. And there is a proposal to move some of the Tri-Rail commuter trains, currently running on the CSX tracks mostly west of Interstate 95, east to the FEC tracks one day.

Though the train is facing opposition in Fort Lauderdale among boaters, who are outraged they’ll face more waits for bridge openings as the trains criss-cross over the New River, Seiler said he thinks “it will come to pass” after that issue is resolved.

Seiler said adding a bridgetender and making the openings quicker should resolve it.

“We didn’t spend 100 years building up a marine industry to harm them,” he said.


Source:  SunSentinel