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(File) A railroad track near Payne Park may one day be replaced by an extension of the Legacy Trail.
Sarasota Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016 2 years ago

Legacy Trail extension inches forward

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The Gulf Coast Community Foundation has given $50,000 to support an extension of the Legacy Trail. How big an impact will the gift make?
by: Alex Mahadevan News Innovation Editor

Earlier this year, Sarasota County missed out on as much as $3 million in state funding to help extend the Legacy Trail into downtown.

Now, a philanthropic gift — albeit a fraction of that amount — could provide a new spark to what may amount to a $20 million project.

This month, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation gave $50,000 to the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit organization that is negotiating on behalf of the county to obtain 7.5 miles of railroad corridors to support the trail extension. That brings the total amount raised for surveys and environmental assessments — among other studies to support an appraisal — to about $240,000, said Jon Thaxton, the foundation’s senior vice president for community investment.

“It wasn’t necessarily done to motivate others to write checks or participate in any other way,” Thaxton said. “Fifty-thousand dollars in the scheme of purchasing large tracts of real estate is not a large amount of money, but it’s still $50,000.”

Even if it’s not necessarily a game-changing donation, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation has the means to vet proposals like this, and Thaxton said the group wanted to show leadership on the initiative to extend the trail from Palmer Ranch to Payne Park.

As part of the Florida Department of Transportation’s SUNTrail program, the state awarded $44 million this year to advance 45 trail projects throughout 21 counties. Plans in neither Sarasota nor Manatee counties made the list. The reason: The Legacy Trail extension just isn’t shovel-ready.

But even though the $50,000 from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation amounts to about 4% of how much it would cost to buy just one mile of track, county Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Patrick Liu expects the gift to give the languishing project more momentum in terms of contributions from the community. And once the county acquires the land for the trail, it will be in contention for more state and federal funding.

“We’ve always been sort of in this planning phase, and it’s great to see were getting some support from these other foundations,” Liu said. 

The county is already vetting funding options for the eventual construction, including tourist taxes, gas taxes, mobility fees and infrastructure surtax funding, among other revenue streams.

Using the city’s multiuse recreational trails, the extension of the Legacy Trail could ultimately provide a connection between Venice and Lido Key.

“It would be one of the top trails in the southeastern United States,” said Thaxton, who served on the County Commission when the first leg of the Legacy Trail opened in 2008.

In 2004, in partnership with the Trust for Public Land, the county acquired 12.5 miles from Clark Road south to Venice for $11.5 million.

While he’s hesitant to put a timeline on the project, Thaxton said the county’s ability to complete the southern portion of the Legacy Trail means the new segment is bound to become a reality.

“The great analogy would be that it was kind of like a train, and once it got to rolling it was just steaming right along,” he said.

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