Square Foot Campaign for North Extension of Legacy Trail already has surpassed $25,000 mark

On Dec. 20, 2017, Sarasota County closed on first segment of route to downtown Sarasota

The Friends of the Legacy Trail website explains the Square Foot Campaign. Image from the website

With Sarasota County having taken the first formal step to create the North Extension of The Legacy Trail, the volunteer Friends of the Legacy Trail organization has launched a creative fundraising campaign to help pay for the improvements needed to make the extension a reality.

As of Jan. 2, 130 donations added up to $25,770 for the nonprofit’s “Square Foot Campaign,” which allows someone to “purchase” his or her own square foot of the North Extension, Steve Martin, who heads up the fundraising campaign, told The Sarasota News Leader. “We’re real pleased,” he added, noting that people have been making use of the opportunity to provide gifts to others, along with memorials.

On Dec. 20, the Trust for Public Land and Sarasota County announced the purchase of 2.7 miles of former railroad right of way to extend The Legacy Trail toward downtown Sarasota. The Trust had acquired the property from CSX Transportation and CSX’s lessee, Seminole Gulf Railway. The Phase I segment extends from Culverhouse Nature Park on Palmer Ranch to Ashton Road,

The $7.9 million for the acquisition came out of $8.6 million the County Commission identified in late March that had been slated for other projects; most of the funds came from the county’s Neighborhood Parkland Acquisition Program. Then, in late August, the board approved two resolutions pegged to the creation of the North Extension of The Legacy Trail. The first involved the Dec. 20, 2017 closing, while the second regards a $30.1-million payment to the Trust on May 30, 2019 for the final 6.3-mile segment, which will run from Ashton Road to Fruitville Road in Sarasota. That transaction is dependent upon voters’ approval of a proposed November 2018 referendum authorizing the county to spend up to $40 million to make the necessary improvements to the rail corridor for recreational use, including construction of two overpasses, county staff has pointed out. The County Commission has not taken a formal vote on putting that referendum on the ballot, but commissioners have referenced the plan during discussions of The Legacy Trail.

A map shows the property for Phase I of the North Extension of The Legacy Trail that the county purchased in December 2017. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With the passage of the referendum, “the extension project would provide a bike-pedestrian connection from North Port through the Venice Train Depot to downtown Sarasota,” the Friends of the Legacy Trail points out in a news release.

The Trust for Public Land also collaborated with the county on the acquisition of the right of way for the existing Legacy Trail, which came from CSX Transportation and Seminole Gulf Railway in 2004, a county news release noted.

During the County Commission’s Dec. 8, 2017 retreat, Roger Normand, a member of the Board of Directors of the Friends of The Legacy Trail, reported that the nonprofit expected the total number of users of the Trail to reach the 200,000 mark before the end of 2017.

“The Sarasota County Commissioners are to be commended for investing in this popular community resource,” said Doug Hattaway, project manager for The Trust for Public Land, in the county news release about the Dec. 20, 2017 closing on the first segment. “This quality-of-life amenity is also a competitive advantage in attracting business investment and employers. Sarasota County will now be an even better place to live, work and play,” Hattaway added in the release, “We also applaud the partnership support of the Friends of the Legacy Trail, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation and financial support from the Community Foundation of the Gulf Coast in furthering the connection of North and South county residents.”

“The extension of the Legacy Trail has been a top priority of the Sarasota County Commission for several years, and this acquisition represents a major milestone in achieving our goal,” said interim Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis in the release.

“This is another major milestone for our dream to see a bicycle and pedestrian trail that provides safe transportation between Sarasota County’s largest communities,” added John League, Friends of The Legacy Trail president, in the release.

The Square Foot Campaign

A graphic shows levels of donations to the Square Foot Campaign. Image courtesy Friends of the Legacy Trail

Martin of the Friends of the Legacy Trail (FLT) pointed out to the News Leader on Jan. 2 that members of the public will be able to take pride in tangible signs of their support of the North Extension.

A news release from the Friends organization notes how the Square Foot Campaign works:

  • “Your donation will fund specific square feet of the trail extension.
    • “You will see the location of your square feet on a map.
    • “You get a Certificate of Appreciation in your name with the GPS coordinates of your square feet.”
    • Your name and donation will be listed on the Friends website (or listed as anonymous, if you prefer).”
    • One hundred percent of the money received by FLT from the Square Foot Campaign “will be used to help fund construction of The Legacy Trail Extension and its amenities.”

FLT is a nonprofit group that represents about 1,000 members, it notes in its news release. It has no paid staff.

During the Jan. 2 telephone interview with the News Leader, Martin said that members of the organization worked at farmers markets the previous two weekends to spread word of the campaign and to sign up contributors. People seem to really enjoy the idea of having their own section of the North Extension, he added.

However, when people ask if they can “purchase” specific plots of the corridor, he continued, FLT members have to explain that that is not possible. “It’s kind of marching its way north.” he said of the Square Foot Campaign, as the plots began at Culverhouse Nature Park.

Still, he pointed out, people are excited about the prospect of being able to head out onto the North Extension one day and find their particular sections of the Trail. “When it is built, you can go and stand on your square foot.”

One group that has shown particular interest in the campaign has been parents, Martin noted. At the farmers markets, he said, quite a few people bought square feet for their children.

Current members of the board of the Friends of the Legacy Trail and a past board member celebrate the Dec. 20, 2017 closing on Phase I of the North Extension. Image courtesy Friends of the Legacy Trail

Donation levels range from “Bronze,” for a $20 contribution — representing 1 square foot — to “Platinum” for $1,000, or 5 feet of the Trail. “All or part of your gift may be tax deductible as a charitable contribution,” the website explains, as the Friends organization is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

A link on the nonprofit’s website allows a person to see the names of all the contributors, Martin told the News Leader. Donations as of early this week ranged from $20 to $5,000. As of Jan. 2, Mike and Andrea Seager were the only ones to have provided that top figure, which netted them 300 square feet on the North Extension. Seager is secretary of the FLT.

Martin became involved in the nonprofit about three-and-a-half years ago, he told the News Leader, and he ended up with a seat on the board. This is the first fundraising initiative with which the FLT has become involved since it paid for the feasibility study for the North Extension, he pointed out.

In 2013, the FLT accepted the challenge of raising $75,000 for that study. On Aug. 23, 2016, it presented a $63,590 check to the Sarasota County Commission, adding to the $14,824 it gave the county in 2014. During that 2016 meeting, then-commission Chair Alan Maio noted that The Legacy Trail is the largest public recreation project in Sarasota County.

“It’s a cause we all believe in,” Martin said of the members’ efforts to see the Trail completed from North Port to downtown Sarasota. “It’s our way of giving back.”