Why should Muny remain a golf course?

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I’m surprised that there isn’t a bigger debate over the future of the Lions Municipal Golf Course (Muny). There’s quite a bit of noise, but it’s all coming from people who believe that it’s essential that 141 acres of prime real estate in West Austin remain a golf course.

I get it. It clearly means a lot to Ben Crenshaw, the two-time Masters champion who chokes up when he talks about his days playing the course as a kid. No doubt proximity to such a cherished childhood memory is why he bought a $1.8 million house just a few minutes away in Tarrytown.

The University of Texas, which owns the 141-acre tract of land that the historic course is located on, is considering leasing or selling the land next year to a developer to turn it into something more profitable. Currently, UT gets a measly $500,000 a year from the city, which operates the golf course.

For years a “Save Muny” campaign has pressured city and state leaders to prevent the course’s erasure. The arguments rests on the course’s undeniably rich history. Not only was it Austin’s first public course (built in 1924), but it is claimed to be the first course in the South to desegregate.

Elected officials at all levels of government –– Mayor Steve Adler, State Sen. Kirk Watson, Congressman Lloyd Doggett –– have claimed the Save Muny mantle.

While it has attracted support from a few older African American leaders in the community, the Save Muny movement is clearly fueled by the course’s customers and neighbors in West Austin. Scrolling through the photos of the Save Muny Facebook group displays a community that has not gotten much more diverse since Jim Crow.

Under the old at-large City Council, you would expect every Council member to pay attention to the concerns of a highly-engaged group of West Austinites. The 10-1 system was supposed to counteract that dynamic. It shouldn’t be too hard for Greg Casar or Delia Garza to say the hell with Muny, we’d rather have housing and truly public parkland.

It’s certainly happening out there in urbanist land. Here’s Tommy Ates of AURA commenting on #ATXUrbanists yesterday:

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If UT sells/leases the land to a developer, the city would most likely get a chance to extract significant affordability requirements through a Planned Unit Development (PUD). If we could get 2,000 units on the property, 25% at lower-income levels, that could do a lot of good in terms of affordability and mobility goals and allow for the preservation of a significant amount of parkland.

This is a great opportunity to get a mixed-income community in a high-opportunity area west of MoPac. Low-income and middle-income residents of the new development would of course be close to job centers both in that neighborhood and downtown, and their mere presence would help integrate one of the most overwhelmingly white and affluent parts of town. For instance, Cassis Elementary, the school that the Muny address is zoned to, is 80% white and 2.6% economically disadvantaged, while the school district is only 27% white and 53% economically disadvantaged.

Right now the area isn’t stellar in terms of transit. Cap Metro actually just reduced bus service on Exposition Blvd. However, if you add a few thousand people on the Muny tract and you’ve got more than what you need to justify investing in more transit in the area. The development should of course have pedestrian/bike trails. And while we’re at it, Enfield, which is a death trap, should get a protected bike lane.

UPDATE: I didn’t realize  Jake Wegmann (of the UT gentrification study) and Juan Miró penned a column in the Statesman last year making many of these arguments.


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