Old photographs of the original Florida East Coast Railway passenger station in downtown Miami show a two-story wooden structure with a peaked roof and windows with awnings.
Demolished in 1963, the old train depot vanished into history after passenger rail service to Miami ended in the 1960s.
Work has now begun on a new station at the same spot that will bring back passenger train service — this time between Miami and Orlando.
Though the overall plan for the rail and business complex was disclosed last year, executives of All Aboard Florida recently described specific new details on how the station will operate and what its associated towers and buildings will contain. They also provided a timeline for construction of various structures that will make up the station and business hub they call MiamiCentral.
The $3 billion project, known as All Aboard Florida, is not just another two-story train depot. The new structure will be a massive complex featuring not only rail platforms but also high-end shops and restaurants as well as hotel and office towers.
The hub for train platforms, hotel rooms, office suites and rental apartments will rise on the site where early 20th century railroad and hotel tycoon Henry Flagler built his original depot 103 years ago, across from the Miami-Dade County Courthouse near the corner of Northwest First Street and First Avenue.
“We’re re-establishing passenger service on the original Flagler railroad site,” said Scott Sanders, executive vice president development and construction for All Aboard Florida.
And just like Flagler’s railroad and hotels fostered urban development in Miami and other Florida cities last century, All Aboard Florida executives believe their project will similarly attract more residents, visitors and investors in the 21st century. They expect the drab downtown section where the MiamiCentral station will rise to become a bustling urban spot for entertainment, shopping, dining, living and working.
All Aboard Florida is a project being developed by Florida East Coast Industries, a rail and real estate company dating back to Flagler’s firm.
The idea, All Aboard Florida executives say, is to build a world-class, iconic complex that will generate business development downtown and provide a seamless connection to Metrorail and Metromover services at the nearby Government Center transit station.
“It will be one of the most important buildings in the city of Miami for generations, the grand central station of a major city in the United States,” Sanders said.
The new station will be elevated, 50 feet above the ground, so rail tracks don’t block traffic on busy downtown streets; and the hotel, office and residential towers will be among the tallest buildings in the city.
One of the innovations is what planners have in store for the space under the elevated platforms.
“Underneath that platform, then you have 200,000 square feet for retail business,” Sanders said. “Underneath the train platform, there are two levels of retail that are created just by the very nature of having lifted those trains up in the air.”
John Guitar, senior vice president business development, said he expects the rail and business hub to draw millions of riders and visitors.
“Somewhere between 10 to 12 million people a year will be going through this facility,” Guitar said. “That’s 25,000 to 30,000 people a day. It really affects what you can do from a retail standpoint.”
Guitar says the rail and business hub will feel less like a train station and more like a modern airport concourse or a street with high-end shops, restaurants and entertainment outlets.
MiamiCentral will be near the planned Miami World Center, which includes The Mall at Miami Worldcenter with such planned stores as Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s.
The elevated platform of MiamiCentral will be built on parcels that until recently served as parking lots. The platform will be just north of the County Hall building and right across from the Wilkie D. Ferguson federal courthouse. The massive structure will stretch across several blocks, from Northwest Third to Eighth streets.
“It’s like a high-rise building turned on its side,” said Sanders.
Three towers will rise from the top of the elevated platform, Sanders said.
On the north end, a 10-story tower will house offices. On the south end, two other towers — one 39 stories and the other 33 — will be built for apartments. One of the towers will contain 450 units and the other 350.
Residents will have amenities that include pools, dog-walking areas, a jogging track and a basketball court.
The elevated platform and the towers rising from the top are all part of project’s first phase of development, along with a separate building just to the west of MiamiCentral where All Aboard Florida will house its headquarters, a parking lot with 1,181 spaces for passengers, more office space, and retail outlets.
On the elevated platform itself, All Aboard Florida envisions rail tracks for its Miami-Orlando passenger trains and for Tri-Rail, which is planning to operate commuter service out of the MiamiCentral station.
Workers are now setting up the foundation for the structure, drilling the holes where massive beams will be installed to hold elevated tracks. Sanders said he expects the beam work to be completed by November. Then workers will begin building the towers. Under the current plan, MiamiCentral will open by the end of 2016, Sanders said.
The office tower and the residential towers are expected to be completed by 2017.
For now, the contractor, Suffolk, is drilling 1,680 piles into the ground, some going 60 feet deep and others 115 feet, to support the elevated structure.
“We will have four rigs, a rig on each block, drilling piles and filling them up with concrete every day, so the entire building can sit on these fingers that go down into the ground,” Sanders said.
In the second phase of the project, Sanders said, All Aboard Florida plans to build a tower just south of the elevated station to house a hotel and more residential apartments. The work is expected to begin in mid- to late-2017.
When completed, the hotel-residential tower would rise to about 850 feet, Sanders said.
All Aboard Florida expects to start express passenger train service in two phases. The first is from Miami to Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach in late 2016 and the second to Orlando in 2017.