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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Town Branch Commons, a park through downtown Lexington, could cost $75 million

By Beth Musgrave –


Building and maintaining a linear park through downtown Lexington could cost upwards of $75 million, city officials told the Urban County Council on Tuesday.

But only $10 million would be city money, they said.

Town Branch Commons, a 2.5-mile linear park with a network of pools, fountains, rain gardens and pocket parks stretching from Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden to Cox Street would be funded through a combination of private, local and federal money, said Jeff Fugate, president and COO of the Lexington Downtown Development Authority, which has spearheaded efforts to create the park since 2013.

This illustration shows the proposed Town Branch Park, part of the presentation on the new Town Branch trail. The Council will hear more Tuesday May 19, 2015 about a proposal for a new linear downtown park that will connect the city’s two main trail systems. The city is applying for a $13 million federal transportation grant and Mayor Jim Gray is asking for $10 million for the project in his proposed city budget. Image: MIR,NBBJ, SCAPE/Landscape Architecture MIR,NBBJ, SCAPE/Landscape Architecture

That $75 million includes a little more than $24 million for infrastructure. A tentative target of $30 million has been set to establish parks along the path of Town Branch, the stream that runs mostly under downtown but would be raised to the surface.

About $8 million would be needed to operate the system for 10 years after it is completed.

An additional $12 million is for an operating endowment, which would generate $500,000 to $1 million a year for operating expenses beyond the first 10 years. It would be maintained by a nonprofit organization.

It’s an ambitious plan, Mayor Jim Gray said in an interview last week. But Town Branch Commons could transform the city for generations, he said.

“Quality of life is so important to our economic future,” he said. “Cities are competing for jobs. And quality of life and quality of place are key criteria in attracting jobs.”

Plans for Town Branch Commons were unveiled in 2013 but were put on hold while the city pursued a major overhaul of Rupp Arena and the attached convention center.

With Rupp Arena plans stalled, the city is turning its focus to Town Branch Commons.

The city has completed a pre-application for more than $13 million in federal transportation grant funding. The final application is due June 3. Gray has set aside $10 million in his proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Lextran has agreed to put in a little less than $1 million.

The council agreed by voice vote during Tuesday’s meeting to ask the city’s law department to prepare a resolution supporting the application for the federal transportation grant.

The first $24 million would go toward building infrastructure, which would include bike lanes and trails that would connect downtown to the Legacy and Town Branch trails, said Jamie Emmons, Gray’s chief of staff.

“The second phase of funding would be privately funded,” Emmons said.

Fugate said an ad hoc committee had been meeting to work on details.

The Bluegrass Community Development Foundation has agreed to help with fund raising, Fugate said.

The design from Scape/Landscape Architecture of New York calls for a large Central Park-like park on the Cox Street lot west of Rupp Arena, a linear park in the Vine Street parking lot behind city hall, and other improvements to existing parks along the trail, including Triangle and Thoroughbred parks.

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