All Aboard Florida is closer to getting the money it needs to finish its Miami-to-Orlando passenger rail after Friday appointments made to a board charged with deciding whether it will receive $1.75 billion in tax exempt bonds.
The Florida Development Finance Corp. board, whose members are chosen by Gov. Rick Scott, has been paralyzed for months after its chairman resigned as of Jan. 1 and the only remaining member’s term had expired.
Although the board has five members, three members were appointed Friday and are enough for a quorum, according to previous votes taken by the board.
“We’re pleased that Gov. Scott has appointed new members to the board and look forward to their quick consideration of our application,” said Lynn Martenstein, vice president for communications at All Aboard Florida.
The appointments are key for All Aboard Florida, which is facing a July 1 deadline to issue the private activity bonds. The U.S. Department of Transportation provisionally approved the bonds in December under the condition they be issued by July 1 and following the completion of an environmental review process. That process is still ongoing.
Although the Florida Development Finance Corp. board appointees face Senate confirmation, they can serve on the board pending that approval, according to a spokesperson for Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.
The appointees include Frank White, a Pensacola resident and vice president of a software development company; Daniel Davis, of Jacksonville, a former Florida House representative and chief executive officer of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce; and Naples resident Kevin Hale, who is an executive vice president of Mutual of Omaha Bank.
As of Friday, 15 applications had been received by the governor’s office for the board. Jeri Bustamante, Scott’s press secretary, said applications are still being reviewed for the two vacant seats.
None of the 15 applicants is from Palm Beach County. The Treasure Coast, which is fighting the rail project, also produced no candidates, according to applications requested by The Palm Beach Post.
Hale was the only person appointed who was recommended by Enterprise Florida, which by Florida law must nominate three of the five board members.
White, whose application was submitted in 2013, said late Monday he wanted to serve on the FDFC to help create an “economically vibrant Florida.”
“The FDFC plays an important role by providing low cost financing for qualifying projects,” said White, who noted that he has followed the All Aboard Florida project but did not take a position in support or opposition when asked by The Post. “I look forward to reviewing the specifics of the financing proposal.”
Davis and Hale could not be reached.
All Aboard Florida opposition group Citizens Against Rail Expansion, or CARE, said it hopes the appointees will consider the pros and cons of the project and its effect on communities that grew up along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks.
All Aboard Florida plans to run 32 trains per day on the FEC tracks from Miami to Orlando with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
“While we are not in a position to address the qualifications of the FDFC appointees, we hope and fully expect the FDFC board to invite and consider public comments from CARE FL and other impacted organizations from the region before it votes on the PAB issue,” said Brent Hanlon, CARE treasurer. “We strongly urge the board to consider all the facts before any vote on expenditures is taken related to this project.”
All Aboard Florida has already begun construction on three stations and its Miami to West Palm Beach segment of track. It used a $405 million high-risk bond sold last year to kick-start development. But the private Coral Gables-based company wants to use the $1.75 billion in private activity bonds to pay off the $405 million and replace a federal loan that is still pending review.
Palm Beach Post staff researcher Michelle Quigley contributed to this story.