Second set of bonds approved for Legacy Trail projects

County Commission authorizes issuance of up to $28.6 million in bonds

(Editor’s note: This article was updated early in the afternoon of Feb. 28 to provide the link to the details about how the Friends of the Legacy Trail calculates its ridership figures. We apologize for not ensuring sooner that the link with the image worked.)

A still from a Sarasota County video shows bicyclists on The Legacy Trail. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With no comment this week, the Sarasota County Commission voted unanimously to issue another series of bonds — up to $28,580,000 — to finance the extensions of The Legacy Trail into downtown Sarasota and into North Port.

The item was identified as a public hearing on the Feb. 25 agenda, but with a presentation only upon request of a board member. No presentation was sought.

Commissioner Alan Maio made the motion to approve the resolutions staff had proposed, and Commissioner Christian Ziegler seconded it.

A Feb. 25 staff memo noted that on April 10, 2019, the commission approved the issuance of the first set of bonds authorized by voters’ approval of a $65-million Legacy Trail referendum on the Nov. 6, 2018 General Election ballot. (The Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office reported that 70.58% of the 197,812 voters who cast ballots on the referendum supported it.)

On June 4, 2019, the memo added, the county “competitively bid the Series 2019 bonds with the winning bidder purchasing [them] at an all-in true interest cost of 2.48%.” Thus, the memo continued, the amount of those bonds totaled $36,422,104.40; the authorized ceiling was $37 million.

This chart from a county document lists the trailheads on The Legacy Trail. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The funding for construction of The Legacy Trail projects “is increasing by approximately $540,643.00,” thanks to the reduction in the costs of issuing those bonds, the memo pointed out.

The new series of bonds is expected to have an amortization period of no more than 20 years, the memo added. The annual debt service will be about $1,910,000, the memo noted.

The closing on this second set of bonds tentatively is set for May, the memo said.

The resolution the commission formally approved on Feb. 25 explains that the bonds will finance “various … projects related to the acquisition and improvement of the Legacy Trail Extension railroad corridor within the County as a safe trail for walking, running and cycling with enhanced connectivity from North Port through Venice to downtown Sarasota, with additional improvements including safe crossings, overpasses, facilities, increased accessibility and other amenities …”

During a Feb. 18 presentation to members of the Siesta Key Condominium Council, Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) Department, provided a graphic showing the three segments of the North Extension of the Trail from Culverhouse Nature Park on Palmer Ranch to Payne Park in downtown Sarasota. Staff hopes to break ground on the first segment — from Proctor Road to Bahia Vista Street — in early summer, she said.

Completion of all the surface improvements, for the extension along the former CSX rail corridor and the segment from Venice to North Port, is expected by the end of 2022, Rissler noted. The Florida Department of Transportation will construct overpasses needed at Clark Road and Bee Ridge Road, she said, with that work anticipated to get underway in 2024.

These are ridership figures by month for The Legacy Trail, thanks to the efforts of the Friends of the Legacy Trail. This is the link to the information about how the nonprofit arrives at its figures. Image courtesy Friends of the Legacy Trail

The Friends of the Legacy Trail, a nonprofit organization, reported that 292,000 people used The Legacy Trail in 2019. The top month for ridership last year was March, with 43,816 people on the Trail, according to the nonprofit’s calculations.