A push to improve Orlando’s transit system is gaining major traction.
Universal Orlando announced plans this week to build a SunRail train station at the Orange County Convention Center. Universal’s role includes giving land for the station and covering the station’s estimated $2 million annual operating and maintenance expenses, eliminating the need for taxpayer money.
“We are one step closer to creating a multi-directional commuter rail system that benefits our entire region,” said John Sprouls, Universal Parks & Resorts’ Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer. “The new SunRail corridor and convention center station will make it easier for residents to get to work, the airport and to the places they love. And it will enable business growth within the International Drive area and across the region.”
Universal is partnering with the Orlando Right Rail community coalition to form the new Shingle Creek Transit Utility Community Development District whose focus is to “plan, finance, construct, operate, own and maintain” the proposed SunRail station, Universal said this week in a media release. The Rail Right Coalition is a pro-transit group sponsored by the International Drive Chamber of Commerce.
The release didn’t give a timeline for when the convention center station could open.
The rail project that’s known as the “Sunshine Corridor Program” would also connect to Brightline, the privately run rail line that stops at Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and eventually the Orlando International Airport starting later this year, according to the news release.
Universal is a key stakeholder in the tourism district by the convention center. The company is full steam ahead on its new theme park, Epic Universe, that’s set to open by summer 2025 on land nearby.
“Based upon its investment in Epic Universe, Universal will also support the District’s financing of up to $125 million in private activity bonds to be used to fund the rail corridor and convention center station, which should allow the District to issue bonds on more favorable terms,” Universal said, adding Universal and coalition partners will “contribute to and collectively support the District’s guarantee of $13 million in annual ticket sales for the Sunshine Corridor — the current estimated yearly operating costs for the corridor.”
For years, there has been talk about improving Central Florida’s public transportation, especially in the tourism district where millions of people visit every year and a significant number of Central Floridians work. Plans have been brought up and ultimately lost traction.
One of the latest setbacks was Orange County voters overwhelmingly rejecting a proposed one-cent sales tax increase in November to raise added funds for the region’s transit needs.
Universal leaders spoke of hope about making the convention center’s proposed new station happen.
“We think it’s the right solution now and we think a number of factors have come together to give us the opportunity to make this a reality,” Sprouls said at a media briefing attended by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Universal executives and International Drive leaders, according to the Orlando Sentinel. “I have been in the community 26 years and people have been talking about rail solutions for Central Florida since before I got here. We think this one actually will work, and we think we can actually make this one happen.”