Final vote on Virgin USA train station in Boca Raton due Dec. 10

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By: Dale King
Contributing Writer

The Boca Raton City Council plans to hold a public hearing Dec. 10 and take a vote that night on whether to throttle ahead on plans to build a Virgin USA (Brightline) train station and 4.5-story parking garage on land behind the downtown library or to hit the brakes on the proposed multi-million dollar project.

The jury was still out at press time on whether the project will be an asset or detriment to Boca Raton, its residents and to the Junior League’s Community Gardens which will have to be relocated to make way for the project. A chunk of the current library parking lot will have to be taken, but all spaces will be replaced with the garage.

The council, a full audience inside the City Council chambers and cable TV viewers got their first look at the proposed lease for Brightline/Virgin Trains’ Boca station and garage during a council meeting Nov. 12 that lasted just over three hours.

Deputy City Manager George S. Brown outlined the plan and noted that some issues in the lease have yet to be settled. Brightline/Virgin USA officials agreed to postpone a final decision to Dec. 10.

Brown said the train station will be funded 100 percent by Brightline/Virgin. The garage will have 468 spaces, 64 dedicated to the library and 404 train station spaces. Total garage construction costs are estimated at $14 million with the city paying 86.3 percent and Brightline/Virgin footing the tab for 13.7 percent.

The rail company will pay the full cost of the station.

During the public comment segment, residents spoke both for and against the station-garage combination on a piece of the library’s parking lot abutting railroad tracks, and shaped like a number 7.

One speaker demanded “no development at the library lot” and accused Brightline/USA of wanting the station built “to line the pockets of executives.”

But a number of speakers said the proposal was right on track. Judith Kaye said she favored it since the rail line provides “easy access to cultural hubs” in South Florida. She recalled that former Mayor Susan Whelchel “told us a train station was coming” in that area a decade ago.

Coincidentally, the relocation of the Community Gardens seemed to be one of the easiest obstacles to overcome. The city wants to move them to the south end of Meadows Park near Boca Raton Community Middle School. The Junior League likes the site, said Mayor Scott Singer. So also does the city staff.

At the council meeting, Councilwoman Andrea Levine O’Rourke said she felt the new location was “a win-win” and Councilwoman Monica Mayotte called it “ideal.”

Brightline/Virgin has set aside $300,000 for the gardens move, and Mayor Singer suggested some of that money might be used to establish educational programs through the school.

Brown said a 29-year lease is being suggested, with one renewal and two mutual consent renewals for a total of 89 years. The 1.8-acre lease area includes the downtown Library property and the adjacent residential complex, Library Commons.

Formal site plans for the station and garage are subject to approval by the Planning and Zoning Board and City Council.

Brightline/Virgin USA is a high-speed, limited stop train that uses the Florida East Coast rail line. It currently has stops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm, but is building a link to Orlando Airport for Disney World-bound riders.