Lexington received very good news last month of a $14 million federal grant that will aid in making the planned linear park through downtown a reality.
Town Branch Trail and Commons — which will link the Town Branch Trail that runs from Masterson Station Park through the Distillery District to Rupp Arena, with the popular Legacy Trail that provides access into the center of town from the Kentucky Horse Park — is within sight with this federal commitment and the $10 million in bond funds that the city has committed.
Funding for these two trails has been pieced together through state, federal and local grants and loans and tremendous volunteer effort over more than a decade.
Now it’s time for private donors to step up.
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Private contributions will be key to the long-term success of Town Branch Trail and Commons and the amenities along the way.
The Urban County Council understood this when it voted to pay $360,000 to the Blue Grass Community Foundation to raise $50 million from private donors. A year and half into the effort little money has been raised, although foundation officials say the groundwork has been laid for the effort. In June, when the council raised questions about the fund-raising efforts, they said potential donors wanted more assurance the Commons would actually be built.
With these latest commitments, amounting to over $24 million between the federal government and Lexington, they should have that assurance.
There are a lot of reasons to support this visionary effort.
It will ultimately give the community a new option for recreation and commuting. It could relieve some congestion by providing a safe pedestrian and cycling link between outlying neighborhoods and the downtown business and government center.
Experience has also shown that completing this project will spur economic activity and enhance property values.
The American Planning Association reports that in the 19th century Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York City, found that in 17 years after $13 million was invested in the park the value of nearby property rose $209 million.
More recently, Chattanooga, Tenn. recorded a 127.5-percent increase in property values following a push for parks and trails; and in Atlanta the price per square foot of condominiums built near Centennial Olympic Park rose from $115 to $250 per square foot.
Good parks are good for business.
It is not, of course, all about economics. Good parks also enhance the quality of life in a community, encourage active lifestyles, and attract visitors. The Town Branch Trail and Commons will bring a safer cycling/walking path through downtown and offer neighborhoods and other properties unprecedented access through town. The prospect of having a trail that leads from horse country, through the heart of downtown, back out to horse country is a unique and enticing feature.
Great cities invest in ambitious public works. Lexington and U.S. taxpayers have invested in this great project, providing the assurance private donors needed to join them.