Blaze trail to downtown greenway

Herald-Leader Editorial

The Urban County Council Tuesday heard a well-thought-out and ambitious plan for a public-private partnership to develop and maintain the Town Branch Commons through downtown Lexington, linking the Legacy and Town Branch Trails in a 22-mile trail system.

With this plan, Lexington has the opportunity to create a transformative greenbelt through the heart of our city. We must not blow the opportunity.

On one level there were few surprises. The proposal reflects the vision of SCAPE, the landscape architecture firm that won the 2013 design competition for a linear park along Town Branch, the long-submerged creek that was the backbone of early Lexington.

This illustration shows Town Branch Commons stretching west of Rupp Arena. The downtown linear park would link to two trails, expanding chances for bicycle commuting and recreation.

The surprise, or at least what gave pause, was the $75 million price tag.

That would be a hard bill to swallow, if local taxpayers were asked to pay it all.

But the city is only on the hook for $10 million under the business plan presented Tuesday. And, that only if Lexington wins a federal grant for about $13 million.

Those combined, along with about $1 million of work LexTran would fund at the Transit Center on Vine Street, will be used for the first phase: a 2.5 mile walking and cycling trail from the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden at Third and Midland, where Town Branch originates, along Midland to Vine to the parking lot behind Rupp Arena.

Following the lead of many other cities, including New York and Louisville, a non-profit would take over raising the money to build and maintain parks along that trail, a total of $50 million.

The price of building the parks is put at $30 million. The additional $20 million in private funds includes $8 million for the first decade of maintenance and operating expenses, and a $12 million endowment to provide operating funds into the future.

There are at least two really great things about this business plan.

The first is it plans for the ongoing investment parks require, without relying on the vagaries of annual city budgets. So, if built, people will want to come to the Town Branch Commons because it is consistently safe, clean and well-cared for.

The second is that if the private money doesn’t materialize, the city’s $10 million will be well spent, providing a safe, accessible link for walkers and cyclers among several existing sites: the Isaac Murphy garden, Charles Young Center, Thoroughbred Park, Phoenix Park and Triangle Park.

It will also allow people who live and work outside the city’s core a safe path into and through downtown, by linking the Legacy Trail, which runs from the Kentucky Horse Park, along Newtown Pike, past the new Bluegrass Community and Technical College campus to the Isaac Murphy garden; and the Town Branch Trail, from Masterson Station through the Distillery District to just behind Rupp Arena.

We believe, though, that if the city commits to this initial investment, private interests will be willing to invest heavily in making the compelling vision of a walkable greenbelt through our downtown a reality.

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