Category Archives: Extension News

LT Extension: On Track to Acquire Phase 1 to Ashton Road

by Roger Normand

Undeterred by the glancing wrath and ongoing recovery efforts from Hurricane Irma, progress continues to acquire the nearly 3 mile long (including a spur that bisects McIntosh Road) unused rail corridor to extend The Legacy Trail to Ashton Road.

The County and Trust for Public Land (TPL) have now initiated all aspects of their due diligence review of the property: a boundary survey; a title review; and concurrent Phase 1 and Phase 2 environmental assessments. The former consists of a review of historical transportation records, reported spills, and adjacent land usage for potential contaminants. The latter consists of a visual inspection of the corridor for evidence of distressed soil or vegetation along with prescribed soil sampling for common rail corridor contaminants. The contract specifies that all inspections must be completed by November 30, 2017. Costs for the due diligence review will be shared between the County and TPL.

The parties must also come to terms on what action to take on some 50 leases, licenses, contracts, or agreements which may encumber the property.

Settlement for Phase 1 is scheduled for December 20, 2017, subject to final approval and appropriation of funds by the Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners.

The TPL partnered with Sarasota County to renegotiate the purchase terms with corridor owner CSX Railroad and their lessee Seminole Gulf Railway, consistent with available county funds: $7.9 million for Phase 1 to Ashton Road, due by December 2017; $30.1 million for Phase 2 to Payne Park and Fruitville Road in the City of Sarasota, due in May 2019. Funds for Phase 2 are contingent on voter approval of a planned referendum in November 2018. The Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved proceeding with the two phased approach on 29 August, 2017.

Stay tuned for further details as FLT gears up to celebrate acquisition of Phase 1 corridor, initiates a multi-phase fund raising campaign to help build the trail, and prepares to support the referendum. Reply here if you’d like to volunteer to support any of these efforts.

LT Extension Supporters Celebrate Progress To Payne Park

by Roger Normand

Legacy Trail supporters celebrated a major step forward to extend the trail to Payne Park in downtown Sarasota. On August 29th the Board of County Commissioners unanimously endorsed twin resolutions for a two-phased approach to acquire the approximate 7.5 mile unused rail corridor from CSX Railroad and to construct the trail. The resolutions authorize the County Administrator to proceed with the acquisition of the rail corridor.

The resolutions come on the heels of the Trust for Public Land renegotiating the terms of an existing sale contract consistent with available County funds. Deputy County Administrator Jonathan Lewis, who will become County Administrator in January 2018 when current County Administrator Harmer departs to become city manager of Longboat Key, was a key participant in the final negotiations. The new contract retains nearly all the same terms, including a 14 percent discount to the appraised value of the corridor, but divides the cost with $7.9 million for Phase 1 due by December 2017 to purchase the 1.7 mile corridor to Ashton Road, and $30.1 million for Phase 2 due in 2019 for the remaining approximate 6 miles to Payne Park and Fruitville Road. The County had previously identified up to $8.6 million in its budget for Phase 1, with plans for a voter referendum in November 2018 to identify funds to pay for Phase 2.

It was not without some drama. Commissioner Detert asked to pull the two Legacy Trail extension proposals from the 40 items included on the Consent Agenda expected to be endorsed in a single motion without further discussion. She then suggested delaying the extension decision until the 2018 budget and revenue expectations are finalized in September. Commissioner Maio countered that “I want to see the Legacy Trail extension done” and could not foresee the September budget meeting undoing that effort. Commissioner Hines agreed, adding that the extension will provide “significant economic value.” “I don’t want to to lose momentum.”  Commissioner Moran noted that the agreement already provides the County an escape clause through November while they and TPL conduct the due diligence review (title search, survey, environmental assessment) on the property. The Commissioners asked for staff reports on the status on FL SUN Trail funding and a list of all federal and state grants that are available and which the County has pursued. Commissioner Hines concluded the discussion noting this is a huge financial undertaking for the County.  “The public needs to support this with more than just with tax dollars.”

The Friends of the Legacy Trail thank the Commissioners for their continued unanimous support for the extension. We emphatically agree to the need to seek state, federal and private funds, and have been directly involved with past County efforts to do so. Those efforts have been stymied because the County did not own or even have the rail corridor under contract. We have also been working with local private foundations, and have developed our own extension campaign to raise private funds. We and our partners will be ready to launch a broad fund raising campaign to support the extension once the county completes acquisition of Phase 1 in December. We are committed to help marshal public support for the November voter referendum.

In the meantime, all Legacy Trail enthusiasts can savor another victory in the goal to extend the Legacy Trail to downtown Sarasota.

Click here for the Herald Tribune editorial supporting the actions of the County Commissioners

Extension takes a giant leap forward

by Roger Normand and Andrea Seager

The Friends of the Legacy Trail have learned that there is a verbal agreement to new terms between Sarasota County, their partner Trust for Public Land, and CSX Railroad and their lessee Seminole Gulf Railroad, to acquire a portion of an unused rail corridor to extend the Legacy Trail into Downtown Sarasota!

The new agreement replaces previously negotiated terms calling for a two-phased acquisition with $20 million for phase 1 by December 2017 and $18 million for phase 2 by 2019. The County had allocated $8.6 million toward the extension during 2018 budget review sessions earlier this year, but was unlikely to achieve the remaining balance by this December. They asked the Trust for Public Land to renegotiate the terms based on the available funds.

The revised terms apply the available $8.6 million to buy the portion of the rail corridor from the northern terminus of the Legacy Trail at Culverhouse Nature Park, over Clark Road, to Ashton Road with closing in December 2017.

Once purchased, the County can begin applying for development and construction grants, and Friends of The Legacy Trail and our partners can begin fundraising in earnest for the extension.
The parties are working to finalize the revised terms and conditions before submitting it to the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) for approval expected later in August.

Stay tuned for further details, including the specific date and time for the BCC meeting. We will need all Legacy Trail Extension supporters to show up in Commission Chambers in their FLT yellow shirts to support this land purchase!
For questions, please do not hesitate to contact us here.

Is $8.6 Million Enough?

by Roger Normand

The $8.6 million identified so far by the County is well short of the $20 million required by December 2017, as negotiated for the first acquisition phase.  It also appears increasingly unlikely that the rest of the $20 million will be secured in time.  So the question to extend the Legacy Trail to Payne Park in downtown Sarasota becomes:  Is $8.6 million enough for the parties to renegotiate and CSX to sell a shorter than planned segment of their unused rail corridor to Sarasota County?  The parties must quickly decide whether or not to proceed as the County and the Trust for Public Land need about six months to conduct their due diligence review of the property before the planned December purchase.

TPL, partnering with the County, came to terms to acquire the 7.5 mile long corridor and spurs from owner CSX and their lessee, Seminole Gulf Railroad, in February 2017 for $38 million.  That amount was split into two phases: Phase 1 from Culverhouse Nature Park to Bahia Vista for $20 million by December 2017; Phase 2 to Payne Park for $18 million by March 2019.  The due diligence includes conducting a hazardous materials environmental assessment, title search, and boundary survey.

Despite the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) directing the County Administrator to begin efforts to acquire the corridor in April 2015, no funding was included in the County budget to support the purchase.  The BCC began in mid February 2017 to grapple with funding options, and in mid March reprioritized $8.6 million in existing and expected 2018 County Parkland acquisition funds to apply towards buying the unused rail corridor.  However subsequent BCC meetings have identified no further funds.

While there are still a number of planned BCC budget meetings before the start of FY-18 on October 1st, there appear to be few attractive opportunities for marshaling substantial more funds for the extension.  The BCC has discussed tax increases on utility services and the county millage rate, both already at or near the lowest rates among Florida counties, to fund new initiatives including extending the Legacy Trail.  But even if enacted, revenue would not be received in time to be included in the December payment to CSX.  Bonding for the December payment is no longer an option, as the County attorney has ruled that bonding on the phase 1 acquisition would preclude the option to bond again for the second acquisition phase.

Representative Joe Gruter’s bill in Tallahassee to provide $15 million for the Legacy Trail failed to garner support from this year’s State Legislature.  Efforts by several local foundations to quietly pursue private donations from wealthy trail supporters remains a work in progress.  An Operating agreement between the County and The Friends of Legacy Trail which includes fundraising authority remains in review by the County staff, and must still be approved by the BCC.

We hope the parties agree to promptly and equitably revise the sale terms to acquire $8.6 million worth of the extension, and the County and TPL proceed with its due diligence to meet the December planned settlement.  We remain firm in our conviction that other governmental and private funds will materialize AFTER the County owns some segment of the extension.  The Friends of the Legacy Trail are developing and, once acquired, will be ready to launch a number of fund raising and promotional efforts to support the extension.  A possible November 2018 voter referendum could provide the balance of land acquisition and construction funds.

Refining Gulf Coast Trail Routes

by Roger Normand

TBARTA (Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority) held its second workshop of the year on March 29th in Sarasota with representatives of the Florida Office of Greenways and Trails (OGT), FDOT, Counties, MPO, and community advocates including the Friends of the Legacy Trail.  The diverse group met to refine proposed routes for the Gulf Coast Trail and enhance regional coordination.  This non motorized, off road, multi use trail will span from St Pete to Naples as part of the Florida SUN (Shared Use, Non motorized) statewide network of connected regional trails.  Updated maps are due to OGT by June 30 to compete for the next cycle of $25 million in annual SUN trail funds.

The most noticeable change in maps for the Sarasota/Manatee area is pursuing two alternate routes as the Gulf Coast trail leaves Hillsborough County and enters Manatee county: a Western Coastal Route would head west along the Willow Allentown Trail then south along Anna Marie Island and Longboat Key, returning to the mainland on the Ringling Bridge; An Eastern Wilderness Trail would head east then south along the Gateway-Greenway trail traversing county lands, through Babcock Ranch (a major new planned community east of I-75), reaching Fruitville Road in Sarasota.  Both routes would unite in Payne Park before heading south along the Legacy Trail, Venetian Waterway, and along Manasota Key Road.  Click here for a map of the proposed routes.

County Commits First $ To Trail Extension

by Roger Normand

To the delight of Legacy Trail supporters, County Commissioners committed $8.6 million to buy the land for a 7.5 mile trail extension. No previous funds had been identified. It was the first visible step in turning vision to reality for extending the existing 10.6 mile trail along an unused rail corridor into a multi-use paved path to Payne Park. Once built, the 175,000 annual users could quickly double as the trail reaches the urban core of the City of Sarasota.

The County Commissioners identified the funds during a March 29th day-long budget review session to align funds with established priorities for the County’s FY 2018 program. As Commissioner Hines noted, “The Legacy Trail is a big picture effort with broad county, public and private support. It is a priority, so we have to start building a pot of funds for it.” This was the second of six planned monthly budget meetings before the start of the new fiscal year which begins on October 1, 2017.

County Commissioners decided to use $0.9 million in available mobility fees, eliminate two lower priority proposed park purchases in the County’s Neighborhood Parkland Program ($2.6 million to acquire the Myakka River Oyster Bar site and $4.0 million for the Vamo Drive site) and commit up to $1.5 million in expected new revenue coming into the program at the beginning of FY-18 and apply these assets towards the purchase of the corridor.

While enthusiasm ruled the day, the County must still identify another $11.4 million by this December to meet the terms of the $20 million, Phase 1 sale contract negotiated by its partner the Trust for Public Land with corridor owner CSX Corporation.  This first increment would purchase the rail corridor from the northern end of the trail at Culverhouse Nature Park to Bahia Vista.  We hope the next several budget workshops will identify the remaining $11.4 million funds consistent with the Phase 1 terms.

Phase 2 requires another $18M no later than March 2019 to bring the trail from Bahia Vista to Payne Park and Fruitville Road.  The County estimates the total land acquisition and construction cost at $56 to $60 million.

The fate of the State Representative Gruters HB 2109 bill now in the Florida Legislature to provide $15 million for the Legacy Trail remains uncertain.  However, the $8.6 million signals the County’s commitment to extend the Legacy Trail, and will certainly buttress efforts already underway to attract other public and private funds.  We commend the County staff and Commissioners for making this substantial initial commitment for the Legacy Trail.

Optimism Reigns on the Extension as County Looks for Internal Funds

by Roger Normand

Amid a sea of unmistakable yellow “Extend the Legacy Trail” shirts filling the audience, endorsements from many public speakers, and having received hundreds of supportive, personalized emails, the County Commissioners began to consider how to buy the land to extend the Legacy Trail into Payne Park at a 15 February 2017 Board of County Commissioners meeting. The outcome left extension advocates cheering as the Commissioners unanimously directed the County staff to go find County funding options to more quickly acquire the corridor rather than await a county wide referendum in the regular November 2018 election, as recommended by staff.

A key milestone was a just-signed sale contract for the 7.5 mile corridor from owner CSX Corporation and its lessee Seminole Gulf Railway to the Trust for Public Land (TPL), who partnered with the County to negotiate the sale terms. The parties have been negotiating for nearly one year. Once ratified, TPL would in turn transfer the rail corridor to the County at the same cost. The $38 million contract price is split into two phases. Phase one requires $20 million by the end of this year for the portion of the corridor between the current end of the trail at Culverhouse Nature Park to Bahia Vista. Phase two calls for $18 million no later than 2019 for the remaining length to Payne Park. Though the cost is more than most expected, several commissioners noted it is 14 percent below the appraised value. There was no visible opposition to the price tag.

But where to find $20 million in the County’s $1 billion budget by this December? Possible sources mentioned at the hearing included bonding, mobility fees, tourism tax, and a millage (real estate) tax rate increase. In exhorting the staff, Commissioners noted “nothing is off the table,” “staff, don’t eliminate options,”the trail it is an investment, not an expense.”

Conveniently, the first of a series of budget workshops was held on February 17, 2017. The workshop aims to review priorities for fiscal year 2018, which begins on 1 October 2017. The Commissioners aggressively pursued funding opportunities. “We are scrapping for money here,” said Commissioner Hines in a theme that applies to all budget review processes, not just to fund the extension. Potential opportunities to free funds included revising Surtax III spending plans (the 1 percent discretionary sales tax that the state allows charter counties to apply on top of the 6 percent state levy), scaling back or deferring some capital improvement projects, accelerating the sale of surplus county lands, and levying up to a 10 percent public service tax that the state allows counties to apply to electric, water and natural/propane gas bills. It was noted that eight counties charge the full 10 percent on all utilities, eight change some portion, and four, including Sarasota, change nothing. It was further noted that Sarasota County has some of the lowest millage rate in the state, and has not raised the tax rate in over a decade. Moody’s has just raised the County’s bond rating, which would lower the County’s interest payments if it opts to raise funds via a bond.

While the Friends of the Legacy Trail remain an unabashed supporter for the extension, we don’t believe the County should have to pay for the entire expected $60 million land acquisition and construction cost. We firmly believe and are pursuing other viable funding opportunities from private and other governmental sources. But these other potential sources first require the County to commit funds towards the purchase of the corridor.

Thanks to all our Friends who supported the extension effort at this critical time. We commend the County Commissioners actions….and urge our extension supporters to keep the momentum going.

Financing Bicycle Infrastructure: The Case of the Legacy Trail Extension

From the Blog of Doug Barnes

With a feeling of common purpose, I’m sitting amongst a sea of yellow in the first floor meeting room in Sarasota County Administration building in Florida. The call by the Friends of the Legacy Trail and the local bicycle organizations to attend the February 15, 2017 meeting is an overwhelming success. Not only are there about 100 supporters of the extension of the Legacy Trail in the room, but 300 sent emails and many others made phone calls. The call to action was issued because of the possibility of a 2 year delay in the financing of the Legacy Trail Extension to Sarasota.
Read more …

End of Existing Legacy Trail, Sarasota, Florida: Beginning of Extension
Photo by Doug Barnes

County Commissioners Vote to Direct Staff to Pursue All Possible Funding Options For the Trail Extension

At their 2/15/17 meeting, the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) showed strong support for trying to find County funds to buy the right-of-way for The Legacy Trail Extension now, rather than wait for a voter referendum in two years.  They directed county staff to investigate all possible funding options and scenarios to get this done sooner rather than later.  County staff will report back to the Commissioners at their budget meeting this Friday 2/17/17.

In other good news, we learned that the Trust for Public Land has now signed a contract to buy the right-of-way land from CSX.  The current plan is for the land to be paid for in two phases.  The first half of the trail will cost $20M and the second half will cost $18M.  Completion of the sale is contingent upon Sarasota County finding funds to pay for the first half of the corridor by the end of 2017.

Thanks to everyone who wrote emails, made phone calls, and came to the BCC meeting to support The Legacy Trail Extension.  The Commissioners received over 300 personal emails and many phone calls supporting the Extension.  More than 100 supporters attended the meeting.  Your support helped to demonstrate the strong community support for the Commissioners to act now.

Potential Economic Benefits of the Trail Extension to Sarasota County

by Andrea Seager

Friends of The Legacy Trail has examined numerous economic impact studies of multi-use recreational trails around the country.  Below are three studies we feel have adequately examined:

  • Day use and tourism impacts,
  • Long term impacts to adjacent property values, and
  • Job creation and taxes returned to cities off of these impacts.

The High Line Trail in New York City and Katy Trail in Dallas are completed, short urban trails.  The Underline in Miami is a study of the projected impacts of a 10 mile urban trail, similar to the Legacy Trail Extension.

High Line, New York City

  • 5 miles, 22 city blocks, derelict elevated freight line
  • Cost $260 million to build
  • Initial projections:
    • Will increase city tax revenues by $250 million over 20 years
    • Will attract 400,000 tourists per year
  • Actual results:
    • Increased city tax revenues $900 million per year
    • Attracts 4 million tourists per year
    • Has attracted $2 billion in new economic activity
    • Real estate values double one block away; 75% higher than rest of downtown Manhattan

Dallas Park System

  • Trails generated highest ROI of any park typology over 50:1 in last 18 years.
  • $23 million in capital investment to build the 3.5 mile Katy Trail has resulted in $907 million in park-oriented development

Miami’s Underline (projected impacts)

  • 10 mile corridor under an existing commuter rail line
  • $110 million -$120 million cost to build
  • Over $170 million total economic output from construction
  • $48 million in economic output from operations annually
  • $6-10 million in annual incremental tax revenues
  • 1000 construction related and 400 permanent jobs

Sources:

http://greenplayllc.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Highline.pdf

https://web.mail.comcast.net/service/home/~/?auth=co&loc=en_US&id=876824&part=2   (see pages v and vii)

https://www.theunderline.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Miami_Underline_Economic_Impact_Study_FINAL.pdf  (see pages 3 and 4)