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.