Category Archives: Extension News

FDOT Proposes $7.5M for Legacy Trail Extension

by Roger Normand

Just as we were publishing the previous newsletter we learned that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) had included $7.5M in its 2022 – 2023 work plan to support actual construction of the Legacy Trail extension to Ashton Road.  This is the fruit of several years of efforts by the County, the MPO, FLT and other supporters to secure Florida SUN Trail funds.  (Florida provides $25M per year for trail building efforts across the state).

A BIG “THANK YOU” TO FDOT.  This is a vote of confidence in the County plans, since FDOT took this action before the County actually took title to the land.  Though scheduled later than desirable, funding can be accelerated if the construction is “shovel ready” and other projects are delayed.

We believe FDOT’s commitment underscores our view that the County’s providing the first funds for the extension will attract other governmental and private funds.

Gratitude in 2017 – Optimism for 2018

by Roger Normand

As 2017 came to a close, two words sum the view of most people when asked about efforts to extend the Legacy Trail:
GRATITUDE for the County buying a nearly 3 mile segment of abandoned rail corridor from CSX Transportation, Inc. in December; and OPTIMISM for a planned County-wide voter referendum in November 2018 to buy  the remaining rail corridor to downtown Sarasota, build a complete, paved trail with two overpasses and amenities, and help better connect North Port to the Legacy Trail. That gratitude was compounded with elation following news that FDOT had included $7.5M  in a future budget to support the extension.

FLT has now started its private fund raising “Square Foot” Campaign, raising over $24,000 in just a few weeks.  All funds will be used exclusively for construction and amenities along the extension.  We are hopeful that our partner local foundations will also find generous philanthropist willing to contribute substantial sums to the construction effort. We also believe that having purchased a segment of corridor, and having the remaining segment under contract, will now make us much more competitive for other state and federal funds.

As all of this transpires, the trail becomes ever more popular.  While final numbers aren’t available yet, we predict well over 200,000 annual trail uses for 2017, compared to 175,000 in 2016.

As we begin 2018, we are thrilled that there is a clear path to extend the Legacy Trail to downtown Sarasota, and create a better connection to it from North Port.  That path would link the two largest population centers of the county.  AND, It can all happen in the matter of a relatively few short years.

With the start of the new year, we have already begun expanding our advocacy efforts to prepare for the referendum next fall.  We are holding information tables at Farmers Markets in North Port, Venice, Sarasota, Phillippi Creek.  We are also exploring other high pedestrian volume opportunities to engage the public on the benefits of the extension.

County Buys Extension Segment to Ashton Road

by Roger Normand

Break out the bubbly.  Release the multi-colored balloons.  Strike up the band.  Welcome to the future addition to the Legacy Trail now reaching to Ashton Road!

Friends of the Legacy Trail is thrilled to report that Sarasota County, with their partner the Trust for Public Land, yesterday completed the purchase of an approximate 3 mile (with spur) segment of the now officially abandoned rail corridor from CSX Transportation, Inc.  Click here for the joint County/TPL press release.

Yes, the Ashton Road segment of the Legacy Trail Extension may not be as gussied up as the current trail.  Yes, it may not now be as smooth a surface, with the rails and ties still in place, and overgrown vegetation blocking portions.  And yes, it’s just county property, not yet officially on the county books as part of the Legacy Trail.  But all of that will surely come in time.

This is a HUGE step forward for safer, multi-use trails in our community.  A big, hearty THANKS goes out to:

•    The County Commissioners – current members Chair Nancy C. Detert, Vice Chair Charles D. Hines, Alan Maio, Paul Caragiulo, Michael A. Moran, and former commissioners Carolyn Mason and Christine Robinson for unanimously embracing the extension effort throughout the last four years at every milestone, finding the money in the budget to buy this first segment, and planning for a referendum next year to buy the second segment to Payne Park and build the trail;

•    The Trust for Public Land, and their point man Doug Hattaway for helping negotiate the terms of sale;

•    The County Staff, from county administrator, department heads, to the many staff, all of whom tirelessly performed the necessary reviews and actions;

•    And a special note of gratitude to our 1,000 + FLT members, our hundreds of enthusiastic volunteers, the many business partners, our charitable partners the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, and the 10,000+ individuals who signed our petition supporting the extension.

There are many ways you can show your continued support for this effort:

•         Contribute to our square foot campaign below (shameless plug – it’s a great holiday stocking stuffer, certificate worthy of memorabilia, tax deductible, 100% of proceeds support the extension);

•         Take a picture of yourself by the new sign we’ve posted at the end of the paved trail by Culverhouse Nature Park and send it to us at friends@friendsofthelegacytrail.org for posting on our social media and website.

•         Invite us to bring our new Extend the Legacy Trail presentation to your business, HOA, or group;

•         Spread the word to your family, friends, and others;

•         Coming soon: sponsorship, commemorative contributions for benches, kiosks, shelters, as well as naming rights for portions or the entire trail. 

Up next is the planned November 2018 referendum.  We will be talking about that in future mailings.

But for now, buying the first segment of rail corridor is an immense win.  Let’s celebrate the REALITY that the Legacy Trail extension is happening….NOW.

We Are Very Close to Extending the Trail

by Roger Normand

Ahhh, we are – so -very – close to extending the County citizens’ ownership of the unused rail corridor to reach Ashton Road! This represents Phase 1 of a two phase purchase of the corridor to Payne Park, with Phase 2 acquisition contingent on a 2018 County-wide voter referendum.

November 30th marked the contractual end of the due diligence review by the County and their partner The Trust for Public Land (TPL) to acquire the 2.7-mile section of rail corridor (including a spur across McIntosh Road) between the northern end of the Legacy Trail at Culverhouse Nature Park, across Clark Road to Ashton Road. No significant issues emerged during the review.

The next, and final milestone to acquire this portion of the corridor is settlement by 20 December 2017, at which time title of the property would transfer from CSX through TPL to the County in exchange for $7.9M back through TPL to CSX.

The County had previously identified and committed the $7.9M, mostly by deferring other parkland acquisitions in FY-2017. We would expect the purchase to now be on autopilot.

Well, not quite yet. The County is still grappling with $5.4M budget shortfall for FY-18 now underway, and the sale contract for the rail corridor provides a “non-appropriations” clause that allows the County to walk away from the agreement without penalty if it does not provide the funds.

The Legacy Trail extension remains a top County priority. We remain optimistic that the County will follow through on its commitment and conclude this purchase, and we can prepare for the November 2018 referendum to acquire the remainder of the corridor to Payne Park and build the trail.

LT Extension On Track for December Acquisition to Ashton Road

by Roger Normand

If all goes according to plan, by late December 2017 Legacy Trail users gazing northward from the northern end of the trail by Culverhouse Nature Park will be seeing County property signs atop the overgrown, unused rail corridor now owned by CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSX) and its lessee Seminole Gulf Railway L.P. (SGR).

Field work has been completed by the County and its partner Trust for Public Land on an environmental assessment, title review, and boundary survey of the Phase 1 portion of the corridor to Ashton Road. CSX and SGR are participating in the review. Efforts are now focused on analyzing the results, as well as completing the review of over 30 existing individual licenses, leases and agreements and deciding whether to continue, modify, or terminate each one.

Despite beginning with an shortened timeline, and the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, the parties expect to complete the inspection review by 30 November 2017. Barring any unexpected findings, they will close on the property by December 20th, 2017, as provided in the sale contract.

Like the existing Legacy Trail, the Phase 1 corridor will be “railbanked” under the provisions of the National Trails System Act. According to the Rails to Trails Conservancy, “Railbanking is a method by which corridors that would otherwise be abandoned can be preserved for future rail use through interim conversion to a trail.” CSX and SGR recently filed to formally abandon this section of rail corridor with the Surface Transportation Board, which has national regulatory oversight on railroads. The Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners approved on October 31st sending a “letter to the Surface Transportation Board requesting issuance of a Public Use Condition, designation of Interim Trail Use, including a Statement of Willingness to Assume Financial Responsibility in response to the CSX Transportation/Seminole Gulf Railway application for abandonment.”

Efforts are also proceeding to draft language for a planned November 2018 County-wide referendum that, combined with a broad public fund raising effort and continued pursuit of grants, will finance both the Phase 2 acquisition of the corridor from CSX/SGR AND construction of both phases to extend the Legacy Trail to Payne Park in the city of Sarasota.

The future indeed looks bright for a dramatically expanded trail network in Sarasota County.

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.