Brightline Looks to Refinance, Gain Public Rating

Klotz on Bonds

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<h3>James A. Klotz</h3>

James A. Klotz

Florida’s rapid-transit system, which recently completed track linking Orlando to South Florida, is mulling a refinancing to lower interest rates on its project revenue bonds and gain a public rating.

Brightline’s refinancing could occur in the next six to 12 months, according to The Bond Buyer.

The rail system has about $3.7 billion of bonds outstanding, floated from 2019 to 2023.

In its quarterly filing, Brightline said it is working on “various financing transactions and grant awards to enable us to fund continued construction activity and enhancement of our rail system.”

In addition, it is “evaluating a variety of economic refinancing alternatives for our outstanding debt post substantial completion, including considering a public rating.”

Brightline looks to refinance, gain public rating

Tickets available on new route

The privately owned system launched service from Miami to West Palm Beach in 2018. Tickets from Orlando to South Florida are on sale and the first trips are expected to start Sept. 1.

In its filing June 29, Brightline said it is continuing to test the Miami-to Orlando corridor at speeds up to 130 mph in advance of the opening. It also said its passenger counts spiked and is working with Miami-Dade and Broward counties on providing commuter service on their system, while Palm Beach County is evaluating plans to extend commuter service on Brightline’s system.

Plans call for Brightline to extend into Tampa with stops that would provide access to Central Florida businesses and major theme parks and resorts, including SeaWorld Orlando, Universal Orlando Resort and Walt Disney World Resort.

Brightline is also reviewing options for additional stations in Brevard County and along Florida’s Treasure Coast, north of West Palm Beach.

Bondholders keenly interested

The recently completed link from Orlando to South Florida is a significant milestone for the system and cheered by bondholders who, as we noted earlier, are potential winners in its progress (“Rapid Transit’s Other Potential Winners: Bondholders”).

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    We understand their satisfaction. Many investors have acquired Brightline’s private activity bonds through us. The bonds are yielding more than 7.50% tax-free.

    The bonds are non rated, are considered speculative and are issued in $100,000 denominations. For higher-risk investors, they have been a boon.

    Owners of Community Development District bonds are also following Brightline’s news closely.

    Brightline’s increased popularity is fueling real estate values near its path, which in turn enhances the value of CDD bonds.

    As the largest underwriter of CDD bonds in Florida, we, too, are keenly interested in Brightline’s progress.

    Could lower borrowing costs

    Work on the Orlando expansion, which began in 2019, included building 56 bridges and three underpasses as well as upgrading 156 railroad crossings. The route from Miami to Orlando is 230 miles, and the trip is expected to take about three hours.

    While we don’t know what the future holds for the system, we view Brightline’s latest news positively.

    By refinancing its bonds, Brightline can lower its borrowing costs. Also, achieving a rating on its bonds will bolster the company’s finances.

    With expanding routes and more passengers climbing aboard, bondholders are enjoying the ride.

    James A. Klotz is the President of FMSbonds, Inc.
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    Jul 12, 2023

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