State group to weigh $1.2 billion bond request for Brightline project


All Aboard Florida’s Brightline will ask a state financing group on Monday for permission to issue $1.15 billion in tax-exempt bonds to help pay for the construction of the second phase of its passenger-rail project connecting West Palm Beach to Orlando.

The Florida Development Finance Corp. has called an emergency meeting in Jacksonville to discuss Brightline’s request, a move that is drawing fire from opponents of the rail project who argue that the public hasn’t had enough time to review the bond issue. Opponents have also questioned why the Orlando-based finance corporation is holding the meeting two hours away in Jacksonville.

In a letter sent to FDFC officials on Thursday, a coalition of Treasure Coast opponents asked the corporation to postpone its meeting and move the location to a site closer to Brightline’s planned route.

RELATED: Brightline wins approval to sell $600M in bonds for first phase

“It is highly prejudicial to conduct a meeting concerning the issuance of $1.15 billion in bonds 150 miles from the closest point of the proposed project,” attorneys representing Martin and Indian River counties and Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida wrote. “This is highly suspicious considering the meeting is being conducted far away from the FDFC offices, which do lie near the location of the proposed project. Please be aware that in determining the location of a meeting you must consider the interests of the public in having a reasonable opportunity to attend.”

The Florida Development Finance Corp. is a special financing unit created by the state Legislature in 1993 to help businesses and nonprofit groups finance capital projects that promote economic development. The finance corporation acts as a conduit, issuing both tradition and tax-exempt bonds on behalf of borrowers.

MORE: Brightline stimulating South Florida with simulated train service

Tax-exempt bonds have advantages for borrowers because they typically are more appealing to investors and have lower interest rates than bank loans.

The FDFC issued a public notice on Wednesday announcing Monday’s meeting. Late Thursday, the corporation released a 91-page packet with more detailed information about the sale.

In a statement Thursday, Brightline said it was moving forward with the bond request to “preserve the optionality of utilizing this financing tool for the project.”

ALSO: Brightline to start limited service in December

Tax-exempt private activity bonds like those being sought by Brightline had been targeted for elimination under the House version of the Republican tax plan being discussed by federal lawmakers.

Brightline’s request comes less than two months after the financing corporation signed off on the sale of $600 million in tax-exempt bonds to help pay for private rail venture’s first phase connecting West Palm Beach and Miami. That decision also raised questions from opponents, who said they learned about the meeting 72 hours before the board’s vote.

Brightline has said it plans to launch service by the end of 2017. But with just over two weeks left until the new year, the company has not announced its schedule or ticket prices.

According to an analysis of Brightline’s $600 million bond issue, the company expected to start shuttling passengers between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale this month, with service to Miami set to begin in the first quarter of 2018.

In anticipation of its launch, Brightline began simulated service last week, running multiple trains a day along the Florida East Coast Railway line. The trains are not carrying passengers.

Eventually, Brightline plans to extend its service north to Orlando. That extension has faced opposition from residents on the Treasure Coast.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in

Southern Airways adds Tampa, Key West flights from PBIA
Southern Airways adds Tampa, Key West flights from PBIA

Travelers will have a new way to get from Palm Beach County to Tampa and Key West starting in November when Southern Airways Express opens a hub at Palm Beach International Airport.  The airline, which will operate out of a private terminal at PBIA, will fly to Tampa three times a day and to Key West daily, and two times per day on Friday...
Sears files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection
Sears files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection

Sears Holdings has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in White Plains, New York, multiple news outlets are reporting. The iconic company, which owns Sears and Kmart, said early Monday that it will shutter 142 of its stores “near the end of the year” in addition to 46 closures announced this summer. A list of the affected locations...
Monday Meeting: Jaime Estremera-Fitzgerald wants us to age in place
Monday Meeting: Jaime Estremera-Fitzgerald wants us to age in place

Jaime Estremera-Fitzgerald wants you to enjoy a long and happy retirement — in your home. His mission as CEO of the local Area Agency on Aging is to further the opportunity for that to happen. He points out that Florida leads the nation in the percentage of residents who are 60 and older. In fact, a University of Florida study calls Florida &ldquo...
Even after covenants expire, HOA may be able to collect assessments

To start this week, and in the continuing story surrounding the application of term limits pursuant to the Condominium Act, the Division of Condominiums has issued a declaratory statement advising a condominium in Marco Island that “if at the next scheduled election the current board member has served on the board for eight consecutive years...
Whole lotta love for Whole Foods — but will chain come to Boynton Beach?
Whole lotta love for Whole Foods — but will chain come to Boynton Beach?

A choice piece of land near Boynton Beach could soon become the site of a new grocery store. Will it be Whole Foods Market ? Owner 13th Floor Investments , a Miami-based firm, isn’t saying, for now. But residents near the property at the northeast corner of Boynton Beach...
More Stories