A project Lexington Mayor Jim Gray has envisioned for nearly seven years began taking form Monday morning, as ground was officially broken on what will become Town Branch Commons.
Town Branch Commons will link Town Branch Trail and Legacy Trail to create 22 miles of uninterrupted bike and pedestrian paths, connecting downtown to the rural landscape.
Work will begin in a few weeks on underground sewers in the area. Town Branch Commons is scheduled to be complete by 2021.
The path of Town Branch Commons will start near Rupp Arena, then continue down Vine Street to Midland Avenue before stopping at Third Street, the trailhead for the Legacy Trail.
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Gray, along with U.S. Rep Andy Barr and project developers, raved Monday about how Town Branch Commons will revitalize the city and create economic opportunity. Gray said the project will be worth the wait.
"Great projects take time and imagination and relentless determination," Gray said.
"Yes, we have known from the start that completing Town Branch would take time, but we also knew that it would happen," he said. "We knew this day would come."
Also crediting former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Gray said Barr’s efforts in Congress were helpful toward the groundbreaking of Town Branch
Barr helped secure $14 million in federal funding through the TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant program.
Barr said seeds of the project began long before 2012, when he and Commerce Lexington President Bob Quick went on trips to Greenville, South Carolina, Austin, Texas and Oklahoma City and discovered how their downtowns all had something that attracted people, young workers, entrepreneurs and led to economic activity.
"We took a lesson from those communities and said we need something like this ... an attraction, a green space, a park, a water focus... something that could attract more economic activity," Barr said.
In addition to the TIGER Grant, the city has received $13.6 million in state and federal grants and loans and $6 million in private gifts. With a local investment of $11.8 million, the $39.5 million trail portion is fully funded.
The proposed cost of Town Branch Commons was $35.5 million.
But before Town Branch Commons begins taking shape, a sanitary sewer replacement project at Main Street and Midland Avenue will take around nine months to complete.
"And then soon thereafter, the separated bike trail and pedestrian trail and park light setting along Midland Avenue will start," Gray said. "Then in a couple years, we will see Midland Avenue and Vine Street completely transformed to a boulevard-like setting."
The sewer project was originally slated to be done in 2023, but it was moved up to accommodate plans for the Commons.
Gray said Town Branch Commons will define the city and will be a signature of downtown.
"Yes, our town is really sizzling, and I'm not talking about the temperatures we're enjoying this week," he said. "Town Branch Commons will have a lasting impact on our city and its citizens."