Virgin Trains USA just received a big boost for its $2.3 billion Orlando-to-Miami route.
The Florida Development Finance Corp. voted unanimously 3-0 to approve $950 million in new bonds during its board meeting April 5 at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport. The move comes as Virgin Trains, formerly known as Brightline, had announced on April 4 that it had the funding to begin construction on its Orlando-to-Miami route and will begin construction in April.
"I will tell you this, the economic development of the state of Florida is very important to me, and I am compelled to support this piece of legislation because I do believe there is a statewide economic impact," FDFC Board of Directors Chairman Daniel Davis said during the meeting.
The last FDFC meeting on March 6 related to the bonds ended without a decision due to a time limit that pushed the meeting past a point where it could be extended for a vote, as previously reported by Orlando Business Journal. Virgin Trains USA President Patrick Goddard had previously said that of the $2.3 billion in construction costs for the Orlando-to-Miami route, $1.9 billion is left to fund.
Goddard during the meeting pointed to the economic development potential of the train, including an estimated direct economic impact of $6.4 billion across the state over the next eight years, the addition of more than 10,000 jobs in Florida during construction and 2,000 jobs after. Goddard was not available for interview after the meeting.
“We appreciate the work of the FDFC board and staff," Virgin Trains USA spokesman Ben Porritt said in a prepared statement. "Virgin Trains will be a transformative project that will help Florida stay economically competitive while bringing thousands of jobs and tremendous economic impact to the state. We have seen incredible support for this project and are confident it will bring a necessary public benefit to the millions of Florida residents and visitors.”
There were no formal presentations made on behalf or against the proposal, but more than 80 separate public comments were taken for and against the bonds by the board. That included Walt Disney World (NYSE: DIS), whicho Goddard said is in talks with Virgin Trains for a potential stop at or near the theme park.
A representative for Disney said during the meeting the company supports private investment into public infrastructure when it creates a positive economic impact and pointed to the proposed effects of the train for the area's $70 billion tourism industry. Other local entities, including the Orlando Economic Partnership and MetroPlan Orlando, also had representatives speak in support.
Several representatives from Indian River County, including Indian River County Attorney Dylan Reingold, echoed previous arguments made against the bond issue, including safety questions, doubts about the financial ability of the rail service to pay back bonds and concerns about the ability of Virgin Trains to reach ridership projections.
The additional bonds come as Virgin Trains USA on Monday announced that investors made orders on more than $1.75 billion in private activity bonds that were previously approved by the FDFC. The bond orders will close on April 18, and proceeds will be used for the Orlando-to-Miami route, among other uses.
Goddard said during the meeting there is continued private interest in investment in the train line.
Meanwhile, the Orlando-to-Miami service is expected to take 30 to 36 months to complete, launching in 2022 and is expected to stabilize operations within two years.
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An Orlando-to-Miami train route is looking at the addition of more than 10,000 jobs in Florida during construction and 2,000 jobs after, and will hopefully impact the economy by $6.4 billion over the next eight years.