All Aboard Florida, the Florida East Coast Industries subsidiary funding a $2.3-billion, 235-mile passenger-rail system, announced July 24 that it has hired Suffolk Construction Co. to build its $150-million, 3-million-sq-ft Miami transit station. Suffolk’s hiring as construction manager came one week after the Miami-Dade County Commission unanimously approved All Aboard Florida’s land-use plans for the downtown Miami site.

The company says preliminary site work will start this summer, with construction moving ahead this fall.

In a press announcement released by AAF, Suffolk's new Southeast region president and general manager Jeff Gouveia Jr. stated: “We’re thrilled to be named as the construction manager. Working on this project is a ‘once-in-a-career’ opportunity, with respect to an express rail terminus station being built in the center of a major metropolitan city."

According to AAF, the nine-acre transportation hub will include a mixed-use development with residential, office, commercial use and a retail concourse. At the Miami site, the rail line will be elevated 50 feet to align with existing public transportation systems. The project is located on the site of Miami’s original Florida East Coast Railway station, which was demolished in 1963.

Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM) is working with Miami-based Zyscovich Architects to design AAF's three planned stations, in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. In a press statement, Olin McKenzie, a senior design director with SOM, commented that designers are working to make the facility "symbolically one of the great gateways that will exist in our country."

In addition to the development’s transportation hub functions, the project will include what AAF calls three "overbuild" towers constructed over the train station. Of these, one will accommodate commercial office space and related parking, while the other two will be built as for-rent residential.

Suffolk Construction will build the entire station and the shell for the three towers, says AAF President Michael Reininger. "While we’re completing the finish work of the rail station, we’ll complete the structure and the skin for the residential use, so by the time we go into service with the rail … we'll be doing the interior fit-out of the residential."

Reininger says AAF expects the residential component to open for occupancy "a few months" after the start of rail service, which is scheduled to begin operations in late 2016. He adds that Suffolk's contract does not currently cover the final residential buildout, but could be added to the firm’s base contract.

For the residential projects, Reininger says AAF may end up partnering with other firms.

"We may have some partners," he says, adding that AAF will remain the majority participant. "We may bring in some other specific expertise for portions of it, but that decision hasn’t been made yet."

Another decision that hasn’t been made yet is whether the Miami station will accommodate Tri-Rail’s planned Coastal Link service. According to AAF, the company could incorporate the necessary infrastructure for the TriRail line, but at an estimated cost of $44 million—which would need to be provided by the state or other municipal entity. The issue of public funding, in any form, for the privately financed rail system has caused some politicians to indicate that the $44 million may not be available. If Tri-Rail couldn’t link into AAF's Miami station, it would need to develop its own facility.

In addition to the station, AAF also plans to develop a mixed-use transit-oriented development facility on a two-acre site located roughly a block away. Plans for that development include 30,000 sq ft of street-level retail, an estimated 100,000 sq ft of office space, and parking.

For its Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach stations, Reininger says AAF plans to seek design-build proposals for the two facilities, which are collectively valued at approximately $31 million and $29 million, respectively. He adds that the firm plans to ask contractors to provide separate bids for each facility, as well as a single price for building both stations.