BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — For those hoping that future Brightline trains won’t just wiz on through Brevard County in between Orlando and West Palm Beach, the company is making multimillion dollar moves on the Space Coast.
Records from the Brevard County Property Appraiser show the passenger train company purchased 33 acres of land in Cocoa just more than a year ago in the area where the track bends away from the coastline and toward the City Beautiful. The land was purchased for $12.5 million in April 2021.
What You Need To Know
- Brightline acquired several parcels of land in Cocoa in 2021
- The passenger train company is currently working on an extension from West Palm Beach to Orlando
- No formal announcement has been made regarding a Brevard County station, but conversations are ongoing
Earlier this month, Brightline also hosted representatives from Brevard County municipalities on a tour of its train, along with the stations in West Palm Beach and Miami. The city of Cocoa helped coordinate the event, which was attended by representatives from Cocoa, Cocoa Beach, Cape Canaveral, the Viera Corporation, the Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization and KelTec, a manufacturing business in Cocoa.
Those on the tour, like Cocoa City Manager Stockton Whitten, said it was impressive to see the connection between Brightline and the surrounding areas.
“One thing we can bring back to the citizens, to our partners, to our stakeholders is that if we get a station, and where there are stations, is that there is economic development and there’s development that occurs around the stations,” Whitten said.
The track to a Cocoa station
As of now, Brightline has not formally announced plans for a station in Brevard County, but in a December 2021 Brevard County Commission meeting, Christine Kefauver, the senior vice president of corporate development at Brightline, said the company would hold talks with local stakeholders within the first quarter of 2022.
During the tour May 16, Kefauver told Spectrum News 13 that the conversation held in February included many on the tour and was productive. She said the next step in the process would be defining “where and when.”
“The great news is the leadership of Brevard County has gone through the exercise of prioritizing where they think a station would be ideal for the entire county,” Kefauver said. “And that really helps drive a better conversation for us to respond.”
That work came in the form of a 2016 Passenger Rail Station Location Study funded by Port Canaveral on behalf of the Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization (TPO). That study called for municipalities around the county to recommend potential spots for a Brightline station to be placed within Brevard County.
It was then narrowed down to nine possibilities, which were ranked on a number of metrics.
- Palm Bay (Robert J Conlon Boulevard NE)
- Melbourne 1 (Main Street)
- Melbourne 2 (Waverly Place)
- Melbourne 3 (Apollo Boulevard)
- Rockledge/Cocoa (Rosa L Jones Boulevard)
- Cocoa 1 (Plaza Parkway)
- Cocoa 2 (Michigan Avenue)
- Cocoa 3 (Clearlake Road)
- Cocoa 4 (Beau Geste Road)
Among the final options under consideration, the “Cocoa 3” location near Clearlake Road received the highest score.
The land purchased by Brightline in its 2021 acquisition comprises most of the parcels referenced in the Space Coast TPO study map. The parcels not currently owned by Brightline that are outlined on the map are currently owned by the city of Cocoa.
Kefauver said some considerations that Brightline is examining are factors like ridership estimates, the cost of a station and the effect it would have on the surrounding area.
“Ridership is an art as well as a science. And so, the science will tell us when we get to OIA (Orlando International Airport) and stabilize because it takes about three years to stabilize once you open up a station,” Kefauver said. “People know who you are, what you’re doing and how they’re going to get from point A to point B. So, we’re going to have that data, and it’s going to come about.”
She said ongoing community partnerships will be what makes a potential Brightline station in Brevard County successful, noting that it will take more than just the work of Brightline to attract ridership.
“It’s not just Orlando to Cocoa, but what does Cocoa look like as the northern-most station on the north-south, along the I-95 corridor? Does it draw trips from Brevard or Flagler County, for example?” Kefauver said. “So, what we need to see is ongoing, doing what we’re doing right now and that is being in conversation with one another, understanding what one another’s needs are and what is the cost of the ultimate infrastructure.”
For the Space Coast TPO, within the next year, officials hope to complete a transit study to determine what the extended transportation needs will be to get people to and from a Cocoa Brightline station.
“Looking at what transit and transportation needs are needed for a possible future location of a station. So, we want to make sure that whatever comes available in the future fits the need of our Brevard County community,” said Abby Hemenway, the public involvement officer for Space Coast TPO.
Among those who took part in the recent Brightline tour was Adrian Kellgren, the director of industrial production at KelTec, which employs about 340 people. He said the business implications of a Brevard County Brightline stop could allow for more businesses on the Space Coast to tap into the talent pool in Orlando.
“Potential future business in areas such as Orlando will allow us the ability to cast a wider net for job talents to bring here to the Space Coast. It’s something that we’re looking forward to, specifically with the Brightline system,” Kellgren said.
Brightline’s next steps
The most immediate milestone for Brightline is completing the $2.7 billion extension to the Orlando International Airport, which will finish construction in 2022 with passenger rides beginning in 2023.
Also, on the 2022 construction docket for Brightline is completing two South Florida stations in Aventura and Boca Raton.
Kefauver said the company is also developing a station somewhere in the area of the Treasure Coast.
“That’s still being determined by the local elected officials between a few of the counties. We have an agreement with them that we would explore that and have a station operational by five years after we begin operations up to Orlando,” she said.
Brightline West, a subsidiary of Brightline, is also working on a connection between Las Vegas and several points in Los Angeles.