INDIAN RIVER COUNTY, Fla. — All eyes are on Brightline as the private rail company is expected to announce its pick for a Treasure Coast station, and much of Indian River County has its fingers crossed for Fort Pierce.
Brightline is considering five proposals in Martin and St. Lucie counties.
According to a 2018 settlement with Martin County, Brightline is required to put in a Treasure Coast station somewhere in Martin or St. Lucie counties within five years of launching service to Orlando. Service began there on Sept. 22.
Brightline previously expected to make the choice in the first quarter of 2024.
"I'm leaning towards Fort Pierce, I hope they get it," Clark Berry, owner of American Icon Brewery, said. "The closer to Vero Beach the better."
American Icon sits about 35 feet from the Brightline tracks at Commerce Avenue. If Vero Beach ever were to get a station, based on the Brightline requirements, it would likely be on the plot next to Berry's Brewery.
"The train is actually a part of our culture, so every time a train runs by we ring a bell, yell at the top of our lungs," Berry said.
Berry said since Vero Beach isn't an option for a station, at least for now, he fully supports Fort Pierce, and felt a station there would boost his business.
"It is a way to safely connect to multiple communities and even tie us to the brewery culture down in Broward County and even north as Brightline continues up beyond us," Berry said.
Boosting tourism is part of the reason the City of Vero Beach wrote a letter to Brightline to support Fort Pierce getting a station.
"Having another avenue for stay-cationers and tourists to come by would be great," Mayor John Cotugno said.
Vero Beach is one of three Indian River County cities, including Sebastian and Fellsmere, to write such letters to Brightline.
Sebastian Mayor Ed Dodd told WPTV he feels it makes sense for the station to be as close to Sebastian as possible.
Cotugno pointed out Fort Pierce is more central to most of the Treasure Coast, while Stuart would leave out all of Indian River County.
"Having that station in Fort Pierce, to us, is a logical choice because of where it’s located," Cotugno said. "Hopefully Brightline will see it the same way."
Keith Kite, a board member for Indian River County's Chamber of Commerce, told WPTV the Chamber is also unanimously in support of Fort Pierce, noting the opportunity it brings for the county and for Brightline.
"If you include us, which we are the Treasure Coast as well, we're talking over 300,000 people and a high demographic that travels," Kite said. "Indian River County needs to have a voice in supporting the Fort Pierce station.
Brightline doesn't come without its criticism, however.
On Monday night, the Indian River County Sheriff's Office responded to yet another pedestrian hit and killed by a Brightline train, marking almost 110 people killed in accidents involving the private rail company.
While it's important to note none of those accidents were Brightline's fault, Sheriff Eric Flowers said the train is costing taxpayer money.
Flower issued the following statement.
"Brightline trains have absolutely been a burden on the taxpayers of Indian River County with no tangible benefits other than so-called upgrades to railroad crossings that in many places have caused crashes, not prevented them. We understand they are still working on certain intersections with plans for further upgrades but so far Brightline has only added to our responsibilities, pulling resources away from other places, like our detectives who will now be investigating this death rather than working on other local cases."
Kite and many others, however, argue that if Brightline runs through anyway, Indian River County might as well reap the benefits.
“I think that we can solve the safety and sound issues," Kite said.
Rumors circulated that Brightline would make its Treasure Coast station announcement the beginning of February, but so far, the company has not given a date more specific than the first quarter of 2024.