By: Gil Smart, Treasure Coast Newspapers
Stuart bigwigs took a ride this week on Virgin Trains, formerly Brightline, formerly All Aboard Florida.
Whatever we're calling it these days, they liked what they saw.
On Monday, Stuart City officials took the tour from West Palm Beach south to Miami and back. The group included City Commissioner Mike Meier, City Manager David Dyess and City Attorney Mike Mortell.
"It was a nice ride," said Dyess — and it helped dispel some of the objections raised by opponents of the train's proposed path through Martin County.
"There were all kinds of comments during the commission process from citizens about the detriments of the train and crime," said Dyess.
In other words: the train comes through, and Stuart turns into dystopia.
Stuart officials saw nothing of the sort Monday.
Mortell said he was impressed with how pedestrian-friendly the stations were; in Miami in particular, "it's almost like they designed a community center, and there just happens to be a train going through it."
And like sugarplums, visions of a similar (if smaller) station in Stuart danced in officials' heads.
Then Wednesday, a group from the Stuart/Martin Chamber of Commerce made the trip. Chamber President Joe Catrambone said 48 people were along for the ride, including members of the chamber's Local Government/Transportation Committee, the board of directors, trustees and chamber staff.
"The overwhelming majority were enthusiastic, in fact we didn’t hear a negative remark the entire day," said Catrambone.
All 48, he said, encouraged Brightline CEO Patrick Goddard to locate a station in Stuart, and "everyone claimed they wouldn't hesitate to take the train to Miami and/or ultimately Orlando," Catrambone said.
Your takeaway from all this: Opposition to the train remains. But there's also a growing enthusiasm for what the train, or at least the possibility of a local station, could mean to Stuart…