High-speed Euro Style Transit Debuts in South Florida

Update: Per Brightline’s financial disclosure, the railroad carried a record 1.23 million passengers last year and increased its revenues by nearly 49 percent to $32 million as compared to pre-Covid numbers.

Update: Developers pay $39 million for development site near Miami Brightline station. Jump to Real estate attorneys and developers bullish on Brightline.

While we Americans proudly embrace the ideals we are known for—innovation and invention, the U.S. is no stranger to hijacking great ideas from Europe. From our gastronomy to our couture, bits and pieces of European heritage are embedded into our lifestyle. Are we about to add one more amenity to the list… high-speed rail travel?

The States are far behind on high-speed rail compared to other countries and while the U.S. Department of Transportation waxes and wanes in its attitude toward high-speed rail depending on the current administration, eager visionaries think that there is a time and place for its success here in the U.S., and that that place is South Florida, and the time is now.

Greenbiz suggests “the U.S. is at the precipice of a major shift where technology, politics and climate action all come together to help spur the adoption of high-speed rail.” West coast developers plan to provide 50 million one-way trips occur annually between LA and Las Vegas. They plan to begin partial operation in 2029 and complete much of the project by 2033.

Florida real estate business and railroad company laid the groundwork

Here in Florida, a real estate developer owned by Fortress Investment Group began construction of the inter-city South Florida rail route, Brightline in November of 2014. Brightline is owned by Florida East Coast Railway and it is the only privately owned and operated intercity passenger railroad in the United States.

Currently in operation from West Palm Beach to Miami, with a stop in Fort Lauderdale, Brightline just added two more stops to its high-speed rail system, for a total of five. The company has also just purchased more land for a possible station in Cocoa Florida, and will open its Orlando hub this year.

What makes South Florida perfect for the company’s national debut of high-speed travel? Similar to the geography and heavy traffic to key cities in Europe, where the Eurostar, which has lines in the UK, France and Belgium, and can move travelers move from point A to point B at speeds of up to 186 miles per hour, South Florida has these key components:

  • The rail system connects a cluster of vibrant municipalities. Much like London, Paris and Amsterdam, here in the U.S., Miami, West Palm Beach and Miami are important cities.
  • The distance between cities ranges from approximately 75 to 375 miles, which many people consider too long for a comfortable car ride, yet too short to warrant an airline ticket purchase.
  • Potential travelers consist of a healthy mix of locals and tourists, and business and recreation. While it’s common knowledge that the cities of South Florida are world class vacation destinations, the tri-county area is also gaining a reputation as a world class business center.

Chicago based Jones Lang LaSalle just stated that the absorption of office space in the Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties were all positive by the end of last year, and Miami-Dade had its strongest year in decades. Add West Palm Beach’s burgeoning financial center to the mix and one can easily imagine the desirability of an easier, more reliable, and comfortable solution for real life inter-city business meetings, especially when considering the alternative of driving which may entail navigating unfamiliar city streets and combatting I95, one of the busiest and most accident-prone highways in the nation.

And, don’t underestimate the lure of South Florida’s recreational opportunities for residents. The combination of retirees and top tier executives, ex CEO’s,  current doctors, lawyers and corporate executives, living here serves to provide the area with an enthusiastic audience for its fine art, athletic and social events, and an appreciation for quick and carefree transit. The two new stations that just began service in Boca Raton and Aventura mean Boca residents can get to Miami for a Dolphin game in minutes; Aventura shopping is just a short and very comfy commute, complete with wine and luxe travel amenities; and there is no need to grab anything except a fanny-pack for a day at the Sunfest beach party in Downtown West Palm.

Latest development: Uber deal

This month Brightline announced that it was partnering with Uber, the global online transportation network that offers several types of ride options from economy to luxury. In a statement released by President of Brightline Patrick Goddard and Uber’s head of Partnership for Transit, Dmitriy Vanchugov, they said they intend to make South Florida travel even more seamless. When passengers use the Brightline app to book their train tickets, they will also be offered the ride share service to bridge first and last-mile gaps and have the added convenience of their ride waiting curbside when they step off the train.

Real estate attorneys and developers bullish on Brightline

High-speed rail could also be an important underpinning in the success of the unprecedented growth happening in Florida right now, thanks to major megaproject builds, posh redevelopment of trendy urban areas, and billionaires like hedge fund mogul Ken Griffin’s interest in the area. Some of the locations of rail stations are the basis for the buildout of new urban transit hubs that are attracting investors eager to cash in on the real estate and revenue opportunities, where special areas dedicated to transit-centered development include a close mix of places to live, work, shop, eat, and enjoy nightlife.

Developers ready to cash in on in on the brisk real estate activity being generated by the new Aventura station include Coconut Grove-based 13th Floor Investments who just bought 2.4 acres of land just south of the station to build a 17-story, 350-unit apartment building. Investors Yakov Cohen and Shimon Bouskila submitted a request to build a 15-story, 261-unit apartment building south of the Aventura stop and Ram Realty Advisors have teamed up with Pinnacle to purchase a nearby site for $15.4 million for another apartment building.

Just recently, an investment group closed its real estate purchase contract for a development site adjacent to the Brightline’s Miami station. The property address is 533 NW 2nd Avenue in Miami’s Overtown district, and includes 1.3 acres. The joint-venture buyers of the real estate closing included BH Group, Pebb Enterprises, Florida Value Partners, and John Buck Company, whose home offices are in Boca Raton, Miami and Chicago. The property was purchased from sellers Central LLC and Meyers Group, both of which are based in Aventura, Florida.

A few blocks away, at 525 NW 2nd Avenue, Related Group’s project for a 539-foot Miami Station Tower was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration last April. The 730,000 square-foot mixed use building will accommodate retail space, office space, dwelling space, and parking space.

A model for the rest of the country

Brightline can be proud of the fact that their Florida project could prove to be a viable model for the nation. Brightline President Patrick Goddard said they want to lead the way toward a long overdue train travel revolution in the country, and by all accounts, Florida’s Brightline is indeed the nation’s inaugural high speed rail system.

Additionally, their affiliate Brightline West is currently developing a rail system that will connect San Francisco to LA, reducing a seven-hour trip by car down to under three hours. They also have a similar project underway to connect LA with Las Vegas, cutting the popular four hour and six-minute route by car in half, thanks to an expected top speed of 180 miles per hour.

Tickets are available for purchase on Florida’s Brightline’s app and its website, gobrightline.com.

David E. Klein, Esq. and Guy Rabideau, Esq. at Rabideauklein.com are among the few attorneys that are Florida Bar Board Certified in Real Estate Law. With extensive experience in complex acquisitions and dispositions, as well as business formation and restructuring, the Rabideau Klein firm is well positioned to offer thoughtful, effective legal counsel as needed in real estate development. Click here to contact Rabideau Klein to discuss the legal implications of your next Florida property transaction.

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