FORT PIERCE, Fla. — It’s been a looming question on the Treasure Coast: where to put a Brightline station?
It’s a question the city of Fort Pierce is trying to get ahead of.
In a City Commission meeting Monday, Commissioners officially approved an interlocal partnership with the Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) of St. Lucie County to design a future Brightline station for downtown.
It's the latest step forward in Fort Pierce showing Brightline they want a station.
"One of the things I've been asked is, 'Does this mean we’re going to get a station? What it means is we’re showing them were ready to have a station," Mayor Linda Hudson said in a meeting Monday.
Hudson also told WPTV's Kate Hussey on the phone a station would help offset all the negative impacts a high speed train could potentially bring to the area.
"If this train is going to hurtle through this area, with all the safety disadvantages of these high speed trains, at least with a stop you get an advantage, people will go fishing here, take advantage of what we have to offer," said Hudson.
Peter Buchwald, the executive director of the Transportation Planning Organization in St. Lucie County, said there are two spots the city has their eye on for a potential station.
One is an old depot lot behind the Sunrise Theater, while the other is the former H.D. King Plant on the waterfront.
"These are vacant, undeveloped properties that would be suitable for development, they’re right in the heart of downtown and adjacent to the tracks," said Buchwald.
Buchwald added his team will work out the details, with input from Brightline. The plan will include what the stations will look like, how they’d connect to the rest of the city, and the benefits of each location. Which, for one, will impact commuters.
"We’ve done studies, close to 20,000 commuters are going to Palm Beach County and beyond a day," said Buchwald, who added it's a significant increase from years past.
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Pete Tesch, the President of St. Lucie County's Economic Development Council, added he believes a train station in downtown Fort Pierce will have a significant impact on the economic development.
"Just think about people traveling from Miami to Orlando and stopping at Fort Pierce, staying in hotels, participating in the other establishments," said Tesch, who added he also believes it would create more job opportunities, particularly in the Marina industry.
Both proposed locations are in walking distance of several downtown businesses, like the Sunrise City Cafe.
"We're like 50 feet away," said its owner, Nichole Parker. "I think [a Brightline station here] would be awesome for us and everybody around us. Businesses would really boom.”
Parker added she'd be happy with either location, and felt it would put her business and others on the map.
"We're not right off U.S. 1, so it’s hard for them to find us, but if that [station] was here, that would definitely bring a lot more business," said Parker.
Of course, the designs are preemptive. Brightline has said it's always planned to have a Treasure Coast station at some point, and has promised to put one somewhere on the Treasure Coast within the next five years, but hasn't released any plans as to where yet.
Buchwald said it's a continuation of a process that really began in 2010 to effort a passenger rail station in Fort Pierce and extend Amtrak service. It then gained momentum again in 2018 when the Board endorsed a Brightline station in Fort Pierce.
Buchwald said with this latest partnership, the TPO has approved the expenditure of more than $350,000 in Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act funding for the project.
Buchwald also said the TPO hopes the have the plans finalized by July of 2024, at which point they'll look at what other steps are necessary to move forward with either Brightline or even another passenger train service station, like Tri-Rail or Amtrak.
Commissioners are planning to meet about the project again on June 12.