Lexington is applying for a $5.6 million low-interest loan to help pay for $23 million in initial infrastructure costs for Town Branch Commons, a proposed 2.5-mile linear downtown park, city officials said last week.
If that low-interest loan is approved, Lexington will have the money it needs to start building the first three phases of the park that will connect the city’s popular trails — the Legacy and Town Branch trails — to downtown.
City officials told the Lexington Urban County Council at a meeting Thursday that it had already received $6 million in state-federal transportation money. The city will match those funds with an additional $1.4 million, for a total of $7.4 million. The city has already approved $10 million in bond money in the current year’s budget for the proposed trail that follows the path of the now-buried Town Branch.
The city had applied for a federal transportation grant — a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery or TIGER grant — for $13 million, but learned earlier this year that it did not receive it. Two state-federal transportation grants from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the state infrastructure loan, if received, would replace the $13 million in federal grant money.
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Jamie Emmons, Mayor Jim Gray’s chief of staff, said the city will know by spring or summer if it has received the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority loan, which has a low-interest rate of 1.75 percent. The city can use water quality fees to make debt payments on the $5.6 million loan because that money will address storm water runoff in the area. Some of the proposed $5.6 million will be used to construct bioswales — typically natural vegetation and other green elements that are used to collect water runoff.
The city has advertised for a program manager for the proposed project, and the council will be asked to approve spending some of the $10 million for that person’s position sometime in January, Emmons said.
The proposed 2.5 mile-Town Branch trail will be funded through a combination of private, federal, state and local money. Public funding: $23 million. Private Funding: $50 million
The two state-federal grants that total $7.4 million will be used to pay for construction of the trail from Third Street and Midland Avenue along Vine Street to Limestone. Part of that phase of the commons will also include a pedestrian crossing on Vine Street near LexTran.
If the city does not receive the $5.6 million low-interest state loan, it will continue to pursue other state and federal funds, Emmons said. The city would still have $17.4 million in funds to start the project.
Emmons said the $1.4 million local match needed for the state-federal transportation grants could come from the $20 million in bond money, but that has not yet been decided. “We’re going to pursue other grant opportunities as well,” Emmons said. “The $23 to $24 million is an estimate — it could be low or high. We have to get bids in to know.”
But several council members said during the Thursday meeting that they had concerns that so much money was going to downtown projects and not to infrastructure projects in neighborhoods.
Councilwoman Jennifer Scutchfield said she has several neighborhoods that need major infrastructure projects.
“They are getting pissed that millions of dollars are going to projects that are all downtown,” Scutchfield said of the neighborhood associations in her district.
The trail follows the path of the now-buried Town Branch. The plans do not include bringing the buried waterway to the surface.
Other council members agreed.
“I know this (project) is about economic development,” said Councilwoman Peggy Henson. “I think we could do a much better project (addressing needs) in other areas.”
Councilman Jake Gibbs, whose district includes most of the proposed Town Branch Commons, said he supports the trail, and not just because it’s in his district. Putting money downtown benefits every taxpayer because everyone — not just downtown residents —uses it, Gibbs said.
“It will also connect our trail system so you can go from the Kentucky Horse Park to Masterson Station,” Gibbs said.
In addition to the $23 million for infrastructure funds, the city has hired Blue Grass Community Foundation — at a cost of $180,000 a year — to begin raising $50 million in private funds. That fundraising has already begun, said Allison Lankford, vice president and general counsel of the Blue Grass Foundation.
That fundraising will be used to pay for a large green space near the former Cox Street lot of Rupp Arena and a pocket park on city-owned land that is currently a surface parking lot on Vine Street, Lankford said.
Jeff Fugate, president and COO of the Lexington Downtown Development Authority, which is helping to manage the project, said design and engineering and other work should begin this spring and construction should start in late 2016. The city has to show the state that it is using the two state-federal transportation grants and must move quickly, he said.
Public Funding Sources for Town Branch Commons
in state-federal transportation grant funding (received)
Kentucky Infrastructure Authority loan fund (application submitted)
city bond funds (authorized)