With a station now being built at 148 W. Morse Boulevard in the heart of the city’s popular Park Avenue shopping district, that could mean introducing more people to the local restaurants, shops and boutiques there.
The Winter Park station, which is more than 70 percent complete, will actually see one of the new trains later this month. The Central Florida Rail Commission has organized a celebration for the unveiling of the new rail car on Saturday, Sept. 21 from 4-8 p.m. at Central Park, 251 S. Park Ave.
“We are partnering with Radio Disney, so we will have this open to the public to come see it on a Saturday afternoon,” said Tawny Olore, the Florida Department of Transportation’s project manager for the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission. “If you have any availability, come on out.”
SunRail is a 61-mile commuter rail line that will cross Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Osceola counties. It is being built in two phases, and the first phase of the line – which includes stops in Maitland and Winter Park – going into operation next May.
Olore said in addition to trying to generate excitement among the public, the commission is also working hard to recruit businesses as partners and have them create incentives for employees to ride SunRail.
“As part of our business outreach, we’re targeting the largest employers within walking distance of the stations,” she said.
Patrick Chapin, president of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, said a lot of local businesses will likely be receptive to that message.
During the Sept. 21 event, “We’re helping to promote it and we’re going to have a good turnout for our merchants because the excitement is there,” he said. “I think there definitely is a buzz about SunRail coming. We’ve been talking about it for so long, but now we’re seeing the train station being built. From the merchants I’ve talked to, there seems to be a hope that it will bring more people down to Park Avenue.”
The Chamber is also conducting a survey of businesses close to the station.
“The Chamber just did a survey sent out to all our members,” Chpain said. “We had over 600 respondents. We’re pulling together some data to see, from an employer standpoint, what impact SunRail may have on workers. Business is booming on Park Avenue and parking is in high demand. So the more we can get our employees to utilize SunRail, that will help a lot.”
The passengers who get off at the local stations will then have the ability to continue using public transportation for the next leg of their journey, said Matthew Friedman, spokesman for the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority, or LYNX.
“We plan on serving all the stops,” he said.
Friedman said commuters at the Winter Park SunRail station have plenty of options, including riding Links routes 1, 9, 14, 23, 102 and the 443.
“Each route is different,” Friedman said. “The 102, for example, takes you right here to our downtown (Orlando) terminal. And keep in mind if you’re traveling north to south, you’re going to ride SunRail.”
Leary thinks it will take some time to experience the full benefits of having a SunRail stop in the city.
“I think the benefits of SunRail are going to be a bit of a slow build,” he said. “I don’t foresee the immediate impact of SunRail. I think people will test it out a little bit.”
But if ridership is strong, it could mean introducing a lot of newcomers to what Winter Park has to offer, he added.
“The merchants were so supportive of it,” Leary said. “To be quite honest, I think Winter Park is a jewel for SunRail. The riders can get on a train and be in the core of our historic downtown shops and restaurants within minutes.”
It could also help attract new businesses to that area, Leary said, with the potential of expanding Winter Park’s commercial tax base.
“One of the things we also have to recognize is there are going to be people getting on and off the trains in the station,” Leary said – all potential customers for local businesses.
“When you look at all of Hannibal Square, there’s still a lot of opportunities for new businesses there, and that is one or two blocks from the train stop.”
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