September 18, 2020

Floridian of the Year

Brightline Passenger Train: Floridian of the Year

Mike Vogel | 11/28/2018

‘The experience is sugar’

Goddard is Brightline’s third top executive since the idea was announced. The company employs veteran railroad people, but Goddard, who joined in 2016, came out of the hospitality field and helped launch hotels around the U.S., Caribbean and South America for years. “I’ve opened some fairly big stuff in my career,” he says. “But this has been the most compelling and most interesting by a long shot. We’re changing the way people move around the state,” he says, talking anecdotally of lawyers and real estate agents working across counties now. He notes that the train opens downtowns to drawing from a larger labor pool while giving workers new options on where to live and work. Brightline already has made intercity trips — getting to Miami Heat games, for example — easier across the region.

Brightline riders tend to be leisure travelers, but Goddard says business traveler ridership “is going up about 5% to 10% every week.” Though not as cheap as TriRail, Brightline fares are cheaper compared to the cost of driving and parking, he says. Plus, “it’s about half the time and a better experience,” he says.

That experience includes — for highestfare customers — complimentary wines and brews in the private lounge, compli-mentary full-bar cart service on the train and other amenities. “I’ve learned from my days in hospitality that people are prepared to pay for a great experience,” Goddard says. “This is why they want to go to a farmers market instead of going to Costco. The transportation business is all about ‘can you get me there cheaper and faster than my alternatives.’ That’s the opener. The experience is the sugar.”

Among Brightline’s other early effects are improvements to crossings, including “quiet zones” in which trains, because of the crossing safety upgrades, no longer need to sound horns. Brightline also means TriRail, next year, will realize its long held ambition to run on the FEC tracks east of I-95 into downtown Miami. Until Brightline, TriRail was confined to a line farther west and a junction in northwest Miami-Dade with Metrorail.

Development play

Brightline stations are spawning development nearby — clearly part of the company’s overall strategy since it acquired land anticipating transit-oriented development. “We get to build our own beachfront property,” Goddard says. In West Palm Beach, that means building residences at the station. Nearby property owners are basking in the amenity dropped in their laps.

In Miami, Brightline’s most ambitious project is a six-block development surrounding its multi-story MiamiCentral station, itself a showpiece of lounges, art, airy floors and a digital wall. Within the six blocks, Brightline’s parent is building Park-Line Miami, two 30-story apartment towers, atop the Brightline platform. It’s had such success leasing two new class A office towers — one 12 stories, the other 10 — that it has both for sale. All the development sits just inside the edge of Overtown, a neighborhood not historically associated with class A development.

The developers of Miami Worldcenter, a 27-acre mixed-use project under development, paid $45 million for the old Miami Arena site to develop a convention center hotel that will bring their project next to the MiamiCentral station, which also becomes a TriRail stop next year and itself is next to stations for Metrorail and also the Metromover.

“We’re obviously big believers in what is happening here,” says Worldcenter managing principal Nitin Motwani. “The reality is our roads, our current infrastructure, can only handle so much congestion. The only solution is really transit, and Brightline sits at the center of it.”

There’s a limit on how much congestion relief Brightline can bring. Fully loaded running a full schedule, it can carry only upward of 8,000 people a day in Southeast Florida. Goddard says Brightline aims to connect hubs like Orlando and the Southeast Florida cities and then let the communities take care of connectivity within the cities.

Edens sees a big picture. Flagler’s train began Florida’s transition from a small southern state to the nation’s third-largest with a vibrant economy and a global role. “What I think you will see in Florida is an incremental and significant impact on economic development,” he says of Brightline. “When Henry Flagler built the train, that really did change the state tremendously.”

Read more in our December issue.

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