County seeks bond funds for Legacy Trail Extension

Taking the first visible step to implement the will of County voters, the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners (BCC) unanimously approved a resolution on January 29, 2019, to seek up to $65 million in new bond funds to finance the extension of the Legacy Trail.  County voters overwhelmingly approved the measure on the November 6, 2018 ballot to extend the trail along the abandoned rail corridor past Payne Park to Fruitville Road in downtown Sarasota, and better connect the city of North Port to the Legacy Trail.

Speaking on behalf of all trail users and advocates, Friends of the Legacy Trail Vice President Louis Kosiba thanked the commissioners for their unwavering support at every key decision point over the last six years for extending the Legacy Trail.  “Thank you for placing this issue before the voters. Thank you for your support to move the Legacy Trail Project along quickly so that citizens and visitors can enjoy a beautiful linear park which will connect the major cities across our county.  I would also like to thank the County’s administrative staff for their dedication and hard work to ensure The Legacy Trail is and will be the premier multi-use trail in Southwest Florida”.

“This is a big deal,” Commission Chairman Charles Hines said. “This is a major step, and I’m very excited we’re moving this forward as quickly as possible.”

The County will seek the bond funds in at least two series.  The County must move quickly to the bond market to secure $30.1 million needed by May 30, 2019 to close on the segment of rail corridor from Ashton Road to Fruitville Road.  This timing is per the August 2017 purchase contract with the Trust for Public Land, which negotiated the acquisition with CSX Transportation on behalf of the County.

The county plans to initially seek a total of $35 million in bonds.  This amount includes $2.0 million to better connect the City of North Port to the Legacy Trail, and $2.9 million to cover the cost of issuing the bond. It also includes funds to hire a planning and design firm for the entire rail corridor from Fruitville Road to Culverhouse Nature Park.  The County purchased the Culverhouse Park to Ashton Road segment in December 2017 under the terms of the same contract.  The County will pursue a second draw of bond funds to begin actual construction.

This is great news on several fronts: the new BCC remains committed to extending the Legacy Trail; they are moving promptly to secure the money to purchase the corridor AND hire professionals to begin the formal design process; it includes the promised $2 million for the North Port connection, even though no decision has been made on the actual route and cost.

Meanwhile, the Trust for Public Land and the County continue with the due diligence review (environmental assessment, title search, boundary survey, resolution of easements) without any showstoppers.  The due diligence must be completed by April 30, 2019 to enable settlement on 30 May, 2019.