All Aboard Florida revealed plans last week for the flagship station of its proposed cross-state passenger-train service, a shimmering, four-block-long labyrinth of shops, restaurant, offices and, oh yes, tracks, perched on a floating platform in downtown Miami.
The 50-foot-tall platform is part of an 11.2-acre development that stretches from just east of Government Center to the Overtown Metrorail stop. It's topped by three towers varying in height from 15 to 28 stories, and flanked by an 80-story skyscraper.
All Aboard Florida executives and city officials believe the station complex, about 3 million square feet, will spur commercial development for miles in all directions as well as become an iconic city landmark like the San Francisco Bay Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge or New York's Grand Central Station.
"Think of Grand Central Station," said architect Roger Duffy, whose New York company Skidmore, Owings & Merrill designed the station. "It's an important anchor for the center of the
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city, and it spurred development of downtown Manhattan. Miami has sort of lacked that."
Local officials offered glowing praise, especially since the privately financed station won't cost them a dime. "If we were to replicate this in the public sector," Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said, "it would cost us billions of dollars."
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado predicted the station would turn downtown from an after-dark ghost town into a throbbing urban center. "In 2016, you will see thousands and thousands of people, late, in downtown Miami," he promised.
All Aboard Florida officials said they would break ground on their planned express line -- which will make stops only in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Orlando -- in the next couple of months.
Aside from building new stations in the South Florida cities, the company will also need to work on the 235 miles of track along the route. Although All Aboard Florida is using existing rails that already carry freight for its parent firm Florida East Coast Industries, parts of the route will have to be upgraded.
"We're leveraging infrastructure that's been in place over a century," said Florida East Coast Industries CEO Vincent Signorello, noting that the backbone of the route is the original railroad built in the early 20th century by Henry Flagler to transport tourists from the upper U.S. east coast to his South Florida hotels.
Traveling at speeds of up to 125 mph, the train -- if everything goes as planned -- will cut almost an hour off the automobile travel time from Miami to Palm Beach, and two hours off the time from Miami to Orlando.
Diagrams and sketches of the station were revealed at a news conference staged in a parking lot across from Government Center, one of several to be cannibalized for the site of the new structure.
About 1,000 feet along and 200 feet wide, the platform will top a concourse that holds two floors of stores and restaurants. City streets -- the structure runs between Northwest Third and Eighth streets -- will continue in service beneath it.
The station is designed to provide a seamless connection between All Aboard Florida trains and Metrorail, Metromover and Metrobus service, as well as offering creature comforts and jangling cash registers to passengers.
It's "a layer of hospitality that has to be wrapped around that infrastructure," Signorello said. "While you want to get from point A to point B, you also want to be taken care of every step of that way."
The plans were the first tangible evidence, at least to the public, of a project announced two years ago.
"Over the past two years, I can't count the number of times people have asked me, 'So when are you going to show us what it looks like?'" said Michael Reininger, All Aboard Florida's chief development officer.
Added Signorello: "All too often, projects start with a picture, then go backward to figure out how it works. ... We did the opposite."