The city of Lexington gave the Blue Grass Community Foundation $180,000 last fall to start raising millions of dollars for a Central Park-like green space that will one day be part of the Town Branch Commons.
But in June, officials with Blue Grass admitted they had not yet raised any money.
The Lexington Urban County Council is expected to take a final vote in early November on a second $180,000 contract for Blue Grass Community Foundation to raise $31 million for the Town Branch Commons Park planned for an area adjacent to Rupp Arena.
The $180,000 the city allocated last year was money well spent, a Blue Grass foundation staffer told the council Tuesday during a council work session.
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Allison Lankford, special counsel for the community foundation, said the group developed a task force of community stakeholders and hired a consultant to do a fundraising feasibility study. A memorandum of understanding among the city, the Lexington Center Corporation, which owns the land the proposed park will likely sit on, and other landowners also had to be signed before they could start raising money.
As part of that feasibility study, 68 stakeholders were interviewed. That assessment revealed there was potential to raise $31 million from private donors. Roughly 49 percent of the people interviewed said they would donate money to build and maintain the park that is tentatively planned for land between Oliver Lewis Way and Rupp Arena.
“In short, the assessment revealed an opportunity to raise $31 million in private philanthropy to build and support the Town Branch Commons park,” Lankford said.
The feasibility study identified 566 potential donors — individuals, foundations, corporations — interested in giving money to the project.
The next phase of the fundraising is to develop an advisory board, which should be in place within the next month, Lankford said. All of the advisory board will be asked to give to the project. Other things on the group’s to-do list: finalizing the schematic design and firming up its fundraising timeline.
The goal is to have 60 percent of the $31 million, or $18.6 million, by 2019, she said.
By 2021, the remaining $12.4 million will be raised.
The $31 million will pay for construction and an endowment to maintain the park, Lankford said Tuesday.
The city recently received a $14 million federal infrastructure grant to help pay for the downtown portion of the Town Branch Trail. The trail will go from the Town Branch Park through downtown to Midland Avenue and Third Street, where it will eventually connect to the Legacy Trail. The council has already approved more than $10 million in city money for the construction of the more than 2-mile trail.
Construction on the trail likely won’t begin until late 2018. The city has always said that private donations will pay for parks along the trail system.
Some on council Tuesday raised questions about giving an additional $180,000 to Blue Grass Community Foundation.
Councilman Richard Moloney said he understood that the money was being used to pay for Blue Grass staff salaries. They city doesn’t typically give nonprofits money to pay for salaries. Instead, city money given to nonprofits is supposed to pay for programs. Lankford said the $180,000 pays for portions of some staff salaries because of the amount of time the fundraising has taken. Lankford said that she doesn’t think the city will have to continue to give $180,000 in future years.
“It is my hope this will be the last year,” Lankford said. The $180,000 the city has already given paid for the consultants and “it’s covering time for multiple staff members.”
The original goal was to raise $50 million from private donors. Several council members questioned why that goal was scaled back substantially.
Lankford said although they felt there was enough donor support for the $50 million, they felt that $31 million was a realistic and responsible goal.
“I am very concerned about this $19 million drop,” said Councilwoman Amanda Bledsoe. “We don’t want to promise something that we can’t deliver.”
The $50 million was supposed to pay and maintain two parks — the Town Branch Commons Park and a smaller park on Vine Street. The $31 million will only pay for the Town Branch Commons Park, said Jonathan Hollinger, a senior administrator who is the Town Branch Commons project manager.
Other council members expressed support for spending an additional $180,000.
Councilman Kevin Stinnett, who has served on the task force for the Town Branch Commons Park, said it has taken time to raise money because the group has been deliberate and responsible.
“We had to do a feasibility study,” Stinnett said.
Councilman Bill Farmer said if the city gives the foundation $360,000 and raises $31 million “that’s a 1,000 percent return.”