The city is poised to give $180,000 to the Blue Grass Community Foundation to lead efforts to raise millions of dollars for Town Branch Commons, a new linear downtown Lexington park that will connect the city's core to its rural landscape.
As part of its general fund budget of more than $323 million, the city set aside $10 million in bond money for the 2.5-mile linear park, which is to have a network of pools, fountains, rain gardens and pocket parks stretching from Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden on East Third Street to Cox Street near Rupp Arena.
The park will include much of Town Branch, the creek that mostly runs beneath downtown Lexington.
The $180,000 is from the general fund and is in addition to the $10 million in bond money.
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Some members of the Urban County Council questioned the $180,000 allocation at Tuesday's council work session. It will come up for a final vote in coming weeks.
Councilwoman Jennifer Mossotti questioned why the city was spending money to get money. The $180,000 is just for this fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2016. It's not clear how much the city will have to pay Blue Grass for private fundraising in future years, Mossotti said.
"I think that's a lot of money," Mossotti said. "It just doesn't seem to be best business practice to go that way."
City officials defended the cost, saying it was needed to raise money.
"We are basically contracting with the Blue Grass Foundation to cultivate fundraising efforts," said Jamie Emmons, chief of staff for Mayor Jim Gray.
The goal is to raise $50 million in private donations.
Emmons said the foundation also will manage the money, and potential donors want to know that the money will be managed appropriately.
The total price tag for the park is $75 million, including a little more than $24 million for infrastructure. The first phase is to build the infrastructure. In addition to the $10 million in city money, the city is seeking to receive $13 million in federal transportation money. The city should know if it receives the money in September, Emmons said.
Councilman Richard Moloney questioned what the city will do if the federal government doesn't approve the $13 million.
Emmons said if the city doesn't get the federal money this year, it will apply again next year. Emmons said if it doesn't receive the federal money in the next two years, officials are developing an alternative plan.
"We are not going to spend any of the $10 million, unless the council approves it," Emmons said.
Private fundraising will pay for building the pocket parks along the 2.5-mile stretch. City officials have said they think that once the infrastructure is built, it will be easier to raise money from private sources.
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. When the city and the University of Kentucky could not come to an agreement on the extent of the renovations to Rupp Arena, Gray suspended the Rupp Arena overhaul plans.
With the Rupp project stalled, the city is turning its focus to Town Branch Commons.
About $8 million would be needed to operate the system for 10 years after it is completed. That also will be raised through private donors.
An additional $12 million will be needed 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. Many of the country's newest parks are maintained by private nonprofits.
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.