Pinellas County, Florida
The Pinellas Trail, a 47-mile rail-to-trail greenway in Pinellas County, Florida, attracts more than 1 million visitors a year. The trail came into being due in large part to a marketing and promotional effort by an advocacy group that lobbied county officials, raised community consciousness, and developed fundraising strategies before trail construction was approved.
In 1986 the Florida Department of Transportation acquired 35 miles of a recently abandoned rail corridor that ran through small beachfront towns and communities, as well as larger cities such as Clearwater and St. Petersburg, in Pinellas County on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The county commissioners originally thought they might develop the corridor into a monorail, or some other form of mass transportation.
A coalition of bicycling and safety advocates which called itself Pinellas Trails, Inc. was created to convince the county that they needed a trail. Working with the support of the county’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, they put together a large promotional plan with two major components. The first was to bring in a public relations consultant to manage the initial stages of the promotional campaign. The key functions of this position included: developing a logo, a professional, high quality brochure, and an ongoing newsletter that would be attractive to all types of trail users; preparing paperwork for non-profit status; and identifying volunteer board members who would offer the needed skills for trail implementation as well as a diverse usership. Basically, the consultant was responsible for getting “the ball rolling” on the marketing plan outlined by the coalition. The second component involved raising over $200,000 from donors to spend on amenities on the trail. The trail concept quickly took seed in the county, which had a high bicycle accident rate. Highlights of the plan included:
- Soliciting approximately 100 businesses for initial funds to develop the promotional plan. For example, a breakfast meeting was held with a slide presentation where local businesses were asked to support the trail;
- Focusing long range membership drives on a broader range of special interest groups such as environmentalists and other recreational groups. By the first annual meeting in September 1989, there were approximately 1,500 paid memberships and $102,400;
- Developing a strong relationship with the media;
- Holding special events on the trail such as walk-a-thons and running races, which were critical in maintaining community interest in the trail;
- Creating a speaker’s bureau which offered free presentations and discussions. Over a three year period more than 100 presentations were given by volunteers.
Through the leadership of the county administrator, who became a trail supporter, the county commissioners began to warm to the trail concept. They were impressed with the community support garnered by Pinellas Trails, Inc., and they realized that it was a cost-effective alternative to the rail proposal. Additionally, new statistics showed bicycle injuries in the county were among the highest in the country. In 1991, Pinellas Trails, Inc. helped the county promote a controversial one-cent sales tax increase aimed at major infrastructure improvements. The coalition received an assurance that if the measure passed, the board would allocate $5 million (about .5% of the money the tax would raise) toward the trail. Pinellas Trails, Inc. put all its effort into linking the idea of the tax and the trail together in residents minds. The tax passed in November by a narrow margin, and construction on the trail began shortly thereafter.
Over one million people use the trail every year. The trail has significantly stabilized the retail environment in some smaller towns that the trail runs through, and it has raised the value of property adjacent to or near the trail. Additionally, there has been support from local businesses and citizens who have contributed water fountains, landscaping, benches and other amenities. A renewal of the “Penny for Pinellas” tax was passed in late March, 1997 by an overwhelming margin.
Today, the structure of the Pinellas Trails, Inc. remains the same, although its activities have changed due to the completion of the trail system. According to Scott Daniels, president of Pinellas Trails, Inc., their role is to ensure responsible trail planning for all participants. For the past two years, membership dues have not been collected because there is no need for additional trail fundraising. The financial and operating responsibilities of the trail are being handled by the county parks department. The group has been distributing a trail guidebook, developing a safety program with paid and volunteer bike and ranger patrols, and organizing the successful “Trees for the Trail Fund,” generating $10,000 for landscape improvements.
Pinellas Trails, Inc. convinced the county to build the trail though consistent marketing pressure. The coalition developed an early game plan that was designed to clear the most obvious hurdles quickly. For example, the group noticed that the rail corridor ran through 24 political jurisdictions and 7 municipalities. They therefore chose a county-wide name that would include all those various neighborhoods and towns. Additionally, they received early assurance that the project, if approved, would be overseen by the county, and not by the separate municipalities. They were then able to focus their efforts on one governmental body. The coalition also realized that the biking community would not be a powerful enough constituency to lobby on their behalf, so the group focused its marketing efforts on walkers, runners, skaters, environmentalists, parents and the senior/rehabilitation community.
Scott Daniels, Pinellas Trail, Inc., 813-441-1466