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Robert Trigaux

Disney throws weight behind Orlando-Tampa high-speed rail project




Mid-morning update: The Tampa Bay Partnership reminds me there is a list of endorsements for Florida's high-speed rail efforts. Check it out here.

Also, the Tampa Bay Partnership and other business leaders are joining the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce in Orlando today for a joint High Speed Rail/Business Coalition Rally today at noon.


Wake up and good morning. Did Disney just become a game changer in Central Florida's quest for an Orlando-to-Tampa high-speed rail line? The Orlando Sentinel reports Walt Disney World will support a stop at the Orange County Convention Center, as well as provide up to 50 acres of free land for a station.

That could turn into a nice boost in the bid for $2.5 billion of federal money to build the high-speed link between the two metro areas. Florida today submits its final application to Washington with plenty of company. Nearly 280 pre-applications, from Los Angeles to Boston and many places in between, were submitted earlier this summer, for a total of $102 billion in proposals.

Not that Disney lacks its own motivations. For years, Disney wanted any train that might be built to take a straight shot from Orlando International Airport to its parks, with no other stations. Disney's backing is important, the Sentinel reports, "because it could provide millions of riders to the system, helping to underwrite operation costs for the entire 90-mile route." Here's the complete story.

"While many details are still yet to be worked out, we think this project makes sense for our community," Walt Disney World President Meg Crofton (shown in photo) wrote in a letter to the state earlier this week, the Sentinel says.

So a major Orlando player just stepped up. Where does the Tampa Bay business community stand? Most seem to like the idea of high-speed rail mixed with a sharply improved regional bus/rail transit system. But Tampa Bay lacks a company of Walt Disney's muscle and stature. And some recent local coverage suggests the business community here continues to take a wait-and-see approach.

Time is short. This month, the Hillsborough County Commission votes on a measure asking citizens to vote for a 1-cent sales tax to support transportation, most of which involves a regional system of electric rail cars. The system would start with a West Shore/downtown/USF line and eventually run through three counties. The proposal in Hillsborough County has been led by TBARTA, the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority, created by the state legislature in 2007, with heavy backing from Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, County Commissioner Mark Sharpe and the Tampa Bay Partnership.

However, an interesting story in Creative Loafing explores just how serious the Tampa business community is over the regional transit system. Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce President Henry Gonzalez, a banker, recently said the Chamber supports the "concept" of light rail but there's no ballot measure yet to rally around.

"As soon as they announce the ultimate funding source, the various lines -- which route will be the first route -- that's when we'll come out and endorse, or not endorse," Gonzalez is quoted in the story.

Whew. With muscular backing like that, how can things go wrong? Such is the critical difference between one company with clout -- Disney -- and the inevitably maybe/maybe not culture of a business group trying not to displease a diverse membership.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:26am]


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