When it comes to commercial real estate, railroads have long been considered a development incubator. Capable of moving people and goods across all distances, rail is a big reason why East Coast cities boomed, why the west was won, and why Henry Flagler was able to attract tourists and developers to South Florida. Wherever a station popped up, hotels, restaurants, retail, saloons, and homes were sure to follow.
But somehow, as the rest of the world developed its rail systems, embracing high-speed and efficiency, trains in the United States slowed in favor of an interstate highway system. Our network of highways had incredibly positive impacts on the country. But today, we’ve also seen some of the other consequences of that decision—suburban sprawl, downtowns that have deteriorated, and traffic congestion.
When Brightline entered the conversation in Florida, it offered a new glimpse into what rail could do for the region. The goal was a high-speed system linking major cities with centrally located stops along a good portion of the Florida peninsula. This grand but controversial plan held the promise of new development opportunities along the route and in a radius surrounding each of the stations.
While there was certainly some development, things seemed to slow as Brightline’s profits also became sluggish. That all changed, however, when the rail company entered into a partnership with Richard Branson and his Virgin Group, a globally recognized brand led by a globally recognized figure.
As a global travel giant, Virgin has already conquered air and sea and, perhaps someday, it will conquer space. It’s really no surprise then that Branson would turn his attention to rail, especially since his new adults-only cruise line, Virgin Voyages, leaves from Port Miami. By partnering with Brightline, he has expanded his ability to move people to his own products.
Within months after announcing the partnership, new station locations were announced. Joining the current stations—Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm—are Port Miami, Aventura, and Boca. In addition, tracks have already started to be laid from Orlando International Airport to the West Palm station, ultimately bringing Central Florida tourists and residents to Port Miami. In other words, Virgin Trains USA will become the only intercity rail system to link an international airport with a major cruise port in 2022.
Cities up and down the corridor are all vying for a piece of the rail pie. In locations where Virgin Trains USA stations already exist, projects are underway and open. Florida East Coast Industries, for example, has already completed two office buildings at Virgin’s Miami Central Station and is building two apartment towers in Miami. That same company also recently opened Park-Line Palm Beaches, adjacent to Virgin USA Train’s West Palm station. The 26-story building has 290 Alexa Smart Home System apartments and 14,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space.
At the same time, there is talk of Tri-Rail operating trains on Virgin’s rails to fill in the station gaps. That, along with a discussion of additional stops, travel hubs, and bus and light-rail linkages, has seen several new trackside plans incorporating space for possible terminals. One such location is University Station in Hollywood, where the city is looking for a mixed-use development on 2.5 acres of city-owned land. Other cities, meanwhile, are creating master plans for additional townhomes, apartments, hotels, and retail spaces.
There has been momentum building with the Virgin Trains USA entry into the Florida rail system. Proposals already on the table include extending the rail link from Orlando to Tampa, as well as a hyperloop, a freight-capable line between Orlando and Miami, traveling down the center of the peninsula along the western edge of Lake Okeechobee.
It will be interesting to see what rail may do for CRE development in South Florida—and the impact could be significant. To learn more about what Morris Southeast Group can do for you, call us at 954.474.1776. You can also reach Ken Morris directly at 954.240.4400 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.