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Business Observer Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021 3 weeks ago

Legacy Trail Extension

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The trail got its start in 2018.
by: Amanda Postma Sarasota-Manatee Editor

Project: The Legacy Trail Extension

Location: Sarasota County

Cost: $36 million (construction only)

Size: 12.5 miles

Builder: Jon F. Swift Construction

Architect: Kimley-Horn is the lead on architecture, as it’s a civil engineering project. Sweet Sparkman Architecture and Interiors is a consultant. 

Project details: Most people are concerned with leaving behind a legacy of their own. Meanwhile, a legacy in Sarasota is focused on the road ahead. 

The Legacy Trail, that is.  

The Legacy Trail began its journey in 2018, when Sarasota County voters approved a $65 million budget referendum. The referendum was created to give life to new trails by converting old railroad tracks. Once completed, it will connect downtown Sarasota to North Port, in south Sarasota County, through Venice. Sarasota-based Jon F. Swift Construction was awarded a contract for the extension project. 

The Sarasota-based company’s contract includes the construction of eight paved miles from Culverhouse Park to Fruitville Road and the four-and-a-half mile North Port connector. Currently the project is two years ahead of schedule, says Jon F. Swift vice president and project manager Ross Russo. 

The trail features several trailheads along the way, as well as a community center at the Pompano Trailhead, the Sarasota County Fairgrounds, complete with pickleball and basketball courts, playgrounds, a rock climbing wall and a sheltered area. Segment one and two have officially opened. Construction is expected to start on the North Port connector in November. 

Emmalee Legler, director of marketing and operations at Jon F. Swift, says Sarasota County commissioners have been a great advocate for the project. “This will help to unify north and south Sarasota,” she says. 

Legler says it’s important to note Jon F. Swift isn’t holding onto the project until the entire extension is completed. “We show that we are making progress,” she says, noting every time a portion is complete, the public is granted access.

Cool factor: Aside from connections being made through this one trail, Jason Swift, Jon F. Swift president and principal in charge of construction, says the coolest part about this project is the high buzz quotient. Everyone, it seems, is talking about it. People from all over the area have called to see what the company is up to and when it’ll be done. “It’s definitely a high profile job,” says Russo.  

Through a cryptographically generated address method and virtual counters along the trail, the Friends of the Legacy are able to keep track of trail usage. Last year, 409,545 visitors used the trail. So far, this year, 332,144 have been counted. 

The popularity of the trail has gone up substantially in the pandemic. Swift says more people are using the trail now than ever before because it's a safe, outdoor space. 

And visitors aren’t just visiting for recreational purposes, he adds. Someone he knows uses the trail to bike to work. “It is more than just a trail,” says Swift.  

A true Rails-to-Trails project, says Legler, is what makes this extension so unique and different from what the construction company has worked on before. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is dedicated to connecting the country through trails. It explains that rail-trails are paths repurposed from former railroad corridors. 

The trail is being constructed from the Seaboard Air Line Railway corridor that ran from Sarasota to Venice. Passenger trains ran through the corridor from 1911 to 1971, with freight traffic continuing through 1992. 

Challenges: Swift says coordinating all the entities involved was quite a task. Russo says that was handled, for the most part, methodically. “A lot of it had to do with our phased approach,” says Russo. By phasing the project out, the firm concentrated on other aspects of the project while waiting for certain aspects to wrap up. Russo says that efficient approach is also why the project is so far ahead of schedule. 

And, as most outside activities and projects go in the Florida summers, the company was faced with the “building something outside when it rains,” challenge, says Swift. 

The company was lucky enough (and on the ball when it came to getting started) to begin planning and designing the project before the pandemic hit. That helped avoid big price escalations. 

In overcoming obstacles, it helps that Jon F. Swift, founded in 1979, is well-established and well-regarded. Firm officials have solid relationships with agencies and entities across the region. “A unique component of our company is that we’re locally centralized,” says Russo, who notes roughly 90% of the company's projects are based in Sarasota County. 

 

 

The Cool Construction issue is, like it sounds, a deep dive into the more unique projects being built in the region — in what’s obviously an unusual time. Read about more of the coolest by clicking the links below:

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