ORLANDO – Marc Reicher sometimes drives from downtown Orlando to his home in Winter Park, using Interstate 4 on a commute that should take him about 10 easy minutes.
He’s lucky if it takes him twice that amount of time during rush hour.
“It’s taken me 26 minutes to drive from the Amelia Street exit to Fairbanks,” he said. “That’s how long it takes all the time.”
Keith Laytham lives in Poinciana, at the Solivita development, and as a retiree, he no longer has to worry about long commutes into Orlando.
But he knows college students who live in Poinciana and drive into the city, including one with a job in downtown Orlando.
“Her situation is she works in a law firm in downtown Orlando and is going to law school at UCF (University of Central Florida), and for her to get there from Poinciana can take 90 minutes to downtown Orlando,” he said. “That’s a long time — and that’s each way.”
Reicher, who lives in Orange County, and Laytham, who resides in Polk, both see a brighter future for the region once construction begins on SunRail, the 61-mile long commuter rail line that will run from Volusia County to downtown Orlando, and then on to Poinciana, the final stop.
But for Reicher, the senior vice president of ChampionsGate, there’s a lot more at stake here. His parent company, RIDA Development, owns property in downtown Orlando next to the Lynx bus station that will become one of the SunRail stops, and the firm has ambitions for the property to become a hub for future economic development.
“We call it Central Station,” Richer said. “That’s our property. Because of the investment that the public sector has made in mass transit, Central Station really has an opportunity to be a transformative property that embraces transit development, taking advantage of what is the central hub of our transportation system in Central Florida.”
The undeveloped property in downtown is now a vacant lot on Orange Avenue across from the Orange County Courthouse, one of 17 stops that SunRail will make. In addition to hosting the station, the lot is expected to be expanded to include a hotel, apartment complex, and shops and restaurants on the north side of the property near the courthouse.
Reicher said this project would be a big boost to downtown Orlando, and make the city more attractive for employers as well, since their workers would have the benefit of using the train to get to work, bypassing the need for downtown parking or spending money on gas.
“I don’t know if people have stopped to consider SunRail, and I know some people say it’s junk, but this is how you grow a region,” Reicher said. “If I’m an employer of 200 people at a downtown office, it’s certainly a great alternative to get them here if they’re on an hourly wage. If my job was to go to a desk and sit, I would take SunRail from Central Station to Winter Park, and my commute is 11 minutes from platform to platform.”
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has endorsed that vision. A strong supporter of SunRail, he talked about the Central Station project on Oct. 24 during his State of Downtown address to the Downtown Orlando Partnership.
“When it comes to the future, no single project will transform our city and our downtown more than SunRail,” the mayor said. “SunRail will give Central Florida’s residents a needed alternative to their automobiles, and create tens of thousands of jobs.”
Dyer also noted that “RIDA Development is announcing that they are moving ahead with plans to transform the adjacent property into a $200 million mixed use development that integrates retail shops, residential units and green space into a walkable village connected to a SunRail stop. The project, called Central Station, will be a national model for sustainable, transit-oriented development. It will create hundreds of much-needed jobs and encourage new economic activity along the Orange Avenue corridor.”
It helps, Reicher said, that Central Station is right next to the city’s Lynx bus station, so commuters getting off SunRail could catch a bus elsewhere.
“There’s 150 buses that leave out of that central station every day, and they say on a busy day there would be 1,400 people waiting,” he said.
But it isn’t just downtown Orlando that would benefit, Laytham said. Poinciana rode a building boom in the past decade, but that crashed when the housing market did the same in 2008. Today Poinciana has a painfully high unemployment and home foreclosure rate, and the SunRail stop would be a much needed boost to the community’s economic future, he said.
“I’ve talked to multiple Osceola county commissioners about this, and they see the economic development around the SunRail station as benefitting the Osceola communities,” Laytham said. Poinciana is divided between Osceola and Polk counties, and the Poinciana station would be off Poinciana Boulevard near the intersection of Orange Blossom Trail, on the Osceola side.
Laytham noted that Avatar, the main builder in Poinciana, “sees the development of the land around that station as being a boon for Poinciana from a commercial standpoint,” and it would help local residents who now have long commutes to their jobs.
“The project would be to either let people park their cars at the station, or park their cars at the Wal-Mart parking lot off Cypress Parkway and catch the bus up to the station,” Laytham said. “Then you’d be able to ride to work in downtown Orlando.”
It also helps, he added, that the plans include stops in downtown Kissimmee and near the Osceola County campus of Valencia Community College – a big help for local students, Laytham said.
“There’s a large number of Poinciana kids, and their next step after graduation from high school is to go to Valencia Community College,” he said. “For a high school kid to maintain the cost of running a car to and from college is an expense, whereas if they could catch the Lynx bus to the SunRail stop, that could provide them with a considerable amount of savings.”
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