Want to jump-start more infrastructure projects? Build a trail!

Greenways, trails, and other parks improvements can lead to more community investments.

Town Branch Commons Corridor is a 2.5-mile multi-modal path and park system that will wind through downtown Lexington, KY. The Town Branch Commons project is being implemented using a Public Private Partnership. Public funding of $40M has been raised to support the Town Branch Trail, and a capital campaign is underway to raise private dollars for Town Branch Park. On June 26, 2017, $5 million in private contributions were announced for Town Branch Park.

Project timeline: The entire trail system is to be completed in 2020

Project funding sources include:
• TIGER Grant: $14.1 million
• CMAQ Grants: $3.63 million
• TAP Grants: $2.9 million
• KIA Loans: $7.1 million
• Local Funding: $11.85 million

No question, trails, greenways and other parks infrastructure stimulate more construction and economic development. New housing is popping up near the recently opened South Peachtree Trail in my neighborhood in Decatur, GA. Pulte Homes is building mid-rise condos in the $300K+ range and townhomes in the $600K+ range on a 37-acre site adjacent to the trail. A 1960s-era apartment complex was demolished to make way for the new housing. Go here for information on the project.

“We believe the trail is an important selling feature for our Parkside at Mason Mill project, which is very close to the trail. That’s why we are in talks with the county to build a link from the project to the trail,” says Amy Peets, Pulte’s online sales manager. “We haven’t gotten word yet from the county that they are going to let us put a sidewalk from our development that would connect with the trail.”

Enhancing property and health benefits

The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), a non-profit that works to advance public parks, recreation and conservation, sees the connection between trails, infrastructure and booming property values. “High-profile parks and trail projects, like the Highline in New York, the 606 in Chicago, and the Atlanta Beltline have spurred billions in private investment, and have raised home values in surrounding neighborhoods,” says Kevin O’Hara, NRPA vice president of urban and government affairs. He says other linear park and trail projects like the Dequindre Cut in Detroit and the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway in Boston draw visitors from across their respective regions.

Kevin O’Hara

Kevin O’Hara

O’Hara says trails like the Buffalo Bayou in Houston and the Grand Rounds in Minneapolis serve as transportation hubs for communities and spur infrastructure improvements in surrounding areas. He explains: “Hiking trails, bike paths and walking paths within a park often lead to sidewalks and transportation improvements in the surrounding community.”

In addition to the economic benefits, NRPA studies have continually shown the positive health and social aspects of living near parks, O’Hara says. “Furthermore, the impact of property values in areas surrounding parks bears out the priority that Americans place on living near a high quality public park. According to NRPA’s 2017 Americans’ Engagement with Parks Survey, 85 percent of Americans consider high-quality park and recreation amenities as an important factor when they are choosing a new place to live.”

Dan Biederman, an urban planner and developer, says parks, trails, greenways and similar infrastructure projects spur more infrastructure improvements. “The success of projects like Bryant Park and the High Line in New York, Military Park in Newark, and Klyde Warren Park in Dallas clearly has had an impact on other cities,” he tells Icons of Infrastructure.

Dan Biederman

He is president of Biederman Redevelopment Ventures Corp., which plans, revitalizes, manages and programs parks, public spaces, and neighborhood streetscapes in 28 states and six countries. His firm is helping develop Town Branch Park in Lexington, KY. “Town Branch Park will be the anchor of the larger Lexington greenway project known as Town Branch Commons. The city of Lexington is leading that development. Town Branch Commons Corridor is a 2.5-mile multi-modal path and park system that will wind through downtown Lexington, following the path of historic Town Branch Creek.”

Biederman says his firm has created massive real estate value by turning Bryant Park in New York into a showplace. “Bryant Park, once a neglected, crime-ridden, drug-filled, dangerous midtown Manhattan space, today is the social center of midtown Manhattan and one of America’s grandest urban parks.”  He says several studies by top appraisers and accounting firms show billions of value created through the park’s improvements. “Blackstone, Brookfield, Hines, and Tishman Speyer are major real estate firms that have benefited in the process.”

Boosting ROI 

Jonathan McCollum

Jonathan McCollum is sold on parkways as a community investment. He is Director of Federal Government Relations at Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP. The firm represents a number of transportation and infrastructure clients, including the New York Building Congress and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.

Do trails, greenways, nature walkways and similar infrastructure projects offer good return on investment? Absolutely, says McCollum. “Just look at New York City, where Brooklyn Bridge Park has become an invaluable resource on the East River, drawing tourists and creating demand for riverfront housing. Or Boston, where the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway has kick-started development of an area that was once the underside of a highway. In densely-populated city centers, these green spaces provide enormous benefits, economically and socially. Simply put, people enjoy spending time (and therefore money) around beautifully landscaped parks.”

residential park of kids playingDo these projects help boost real estate and land tax values? Enormously, says McCollum. “When a developer builds near urban green spaces, residents will quickly follow – and they often are willing to pay a premium to enjoy a beautiful outdoor recreation area.”

Meanwhile, back in my neighborhood–Yes, Pulte Homes is waiting for an OK from DeKalb County, GA to build a walkway from its new housing development to the new South Peachtree Trail extension. Even before that happens, I’ll start loading my U-Haul cargo van to move into one of the new Pulte residences, so I can enjoy the trail’s many amenities.

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