Business lessons for Tampa Bay lurk in Orlando's success in winning SunRail go-ahead
Wake up and good morning. So how did the Orlando area manage to win over Florida Gov. Rick Scott to support the SunRail commuter line, a clearly questionable economic project (but then most mass transit is), when Scott supposedly detests anything that requires state subsidies?
Well, clearly Orlando showed its clout and organization skills, leveraging unified lobbying and the X factors that include the major influence of the area's Congressman John Mica, R-FL, who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in Washington, CSX (whose rail lines SunRail will use) and of course Disney, the state's most powerful business.
For Tampa Bay, whose business leaders supported the SunRail effort, the real question is: What lessons can be learned from the initial SunRail success? Orlando Sentinel business columnist Beth Kassab's column sheds some notable light on just how much Orlando area businesses are willing to step up and commit real time and money to make SunRail happen. Some examples:
* Florida Hospital made the largest commitment to the project, pledging $3.5 million to build a rail stop at its downtown hospital. It's also exploring ways to make the stops — which will eventually stretch along Interstate 4 from Deland south to Poinciana — work for its hospitals in Altamonte Springs and Winter Park, though those stops won't be located on the hospital's property like the one at the main campus.
* Alex Martins, president of the Orlando Magic, said he'll work to make sure SunRail operates before and after games, even if that means the Magic subsidize tickets for its patrons. Much of the discussion about SunRail's schedule has centered on typical business hours, but the Magic want the train to operate later to accommodate post-game traffic.
* A plan for 200 apartments mixed with offices and retail space next to the train stop in Longwood could become a model for other suburban stops.
* Walt Disney World, the region's largest employer, committed to partially subsidize bus service throughout Central Florida to its property to make the train more appealing to its 62,000 workers.
* Tupperware, which owns about 500 acres near the SunRail route, agreed to donate 10 acres for a stop near Osceola Parkway as well as provide a shuttle system that will encourage its employees to take the train.
Individually, each commitment is commendable. Combined, it's business clout that creates a tipping point towards SunRail actually have a chance to prosper. What will Tampa Bay businesses offer when it's their time to step up and deliver on regional mass transit?
-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times