Virgin Train and FDOT execs talk about “capturing growth” at I-4 Commercial Corridor Conference

GrowthSpotter editor Laura Kinsler at this years I-4 Commercial Corridor Conference at Florida Polytechnic University.

Hot on the heels of debuting its connection and future maintenance building at Orlando International Airport, Virgin Train USA/Brightline executive Bob O’Malley said the company is ready to “capture the growth” happening along one of Central Florida’s busiest interstate highways.

O’Malley, vice president of government affairs, joined Kati Sherrard, an interstate project manager at the Florida Department of Transportation, at this year’s I-4 Commercial Corridor Conference at Florida Polytechnic University to outline some key transportation initiatives that stand to benefit commercial development in the I-4 corridor.


GrowthSpotter editor Laura Kinsler moderated the session.

To recap, O’Malley and Sherrand credit the impact transportation projects have on growing real estate development.

Bob O’Malley, vice president of government affairs for Brightline, at this years I-4 Commercial Corridor Conference at Florida Polytechnic University.

The I-4 Ultimate project, for example, stretches 21 miles north of State Road 434 in Seminole, through Orlando and to west of Florida’s Turnpike in Orange County.

“You build an interchange, the property owners capture that value,” O’Malley said. “Transfer systems like SunRail creates commercial value around its corridor.”

He added that the Orlando metro saw about 75 million visitors last year.

“We want to capture that growth,” O’Malley said.

Brightline’s Transit-Oriented Development

In November, Brightline announced it would rebrand the company to Virgin Trains after billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Group agreed to become a minority investor in the company.

Last year, it also launched its Miami service — the same year the company opened the office portion of its MiamiCentral mixed-use development, which consists of about 285,000 square feet of office space across two buildings, as well as apartments and retail.

In May, Florida East Coast Industries, its parent company, sold the office component for $159 million to San Francisco-based Shorenstein Properties.


“Our train has created the magnet for that development,” O’Malley said.

The company’s business model relies heavily on real estate development. Virgin is currently looking for additional sites it may develop to urbanize future stops as the high-speed rail system makes its way from South Florida to eventually Orlando and Tampa.

He said there’s areas south of I-drive along the S.R. 417 corridor that “will make great sites for the station.”

Another potential stop is in the Lakeland area, though not in Phase 1, O’Malley said.

When moderator Kinsler asked about the potential for a site near the Orange County Convention Center, O’Malley said the additional $500 million expense would make it cost-prohibitive.

“We’re not the silver bullet that does everything that Orlando needs,” he said. “It needs to make sense from a rider standpoint and a development standpoint.”


Improvements Underway At I-4

At the panel, Sherrard presented a power point that shows the I-4 Ultimate project extending another 20 miles to the north through Deltona in Volusia County and another 20 miles to the south to the Polk County line as part of I-4 Beyond the Ultimate (BtU) project.

Plans call for replacing or widening 29 overpass bridges and 25 mainline bridges, as well as four system-to-system interchanges, four express lanes and six general use lanes.

I-4 improvements extends another 20 miles to the north through Deltona in Volusia County and another 20 miles to the south through west Polk County as part of I-4 Beyond the Ultimate (BtU) project.

Sherrard also mentioned that I-4 is intended to connect to the Tampa Bay Next program that was initiated to improve I-275, which runs through neighborhoods such as Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights.

The reconstruction of Howard Frankland Bridge is also part of plans.

In Polk County I-4 stretches from west of SR 570 (Polk Parkway) to west of US 27 Interchange, and consists of 10 interchanges.


Sherrard said the department is examining the integration of express lanes and improvements to the roadway. The most recent being the reconstruction of the existing I-4 at SR 557 interchange from a partial cloverleaf to a diamond configuration.

Earlier this week GrowthSpotter reported the department has fast-tracked $8.4 million to reconfigure the ChampionsGate interchange at C.R. 532 as a diverging crossover diamond interchange to help ease traffic congestion in the fast-growing region.

Developments nearby that interchange include Encore Capital’s 108-acre mixed-use Reunion Village development, which signed Orlando Health as an anchor tenant.

ChampionsGate Resort, a luxury golf community master-planned by RIDA Development Corp., is also underway. RIDA is close to completing the Preserve at ChampionsGate apartment complex slated for the fourth quarter of 2019, while Lennar turns out hundreds of new homes each year in the community.

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