My latest column in Austin Monthly touches on Lions Municipal Golf Course. I’d love it if you read the entire column (maybe even kick it old school and buy the actual magazine on your next grocery run), but if you’re scared of leaving the comforting cyber confines of AustinPolitics.NET, here are a couple key excerpts:
A large contingent of people are outraged at the prospect of Muny becoming anything but a golf course. They shouldn’t be.
What that 141-acre tract of land has provided me in the form of outdoor leisure is a great thing. But it could probably provide even greater things for far more people if it were used as something other than a golf course. Housing, for instance.
“Save Muny” argues that the course must be preserved because of its unique place in history as the first course in the former Confederacy to desegregate. The story goes that 9-year-old Alvin Propps, a black caddie, played a round before being stopped by police officers in either 1950 or 1951. Mayor Taylor Glass, after talking the issue over with some City Council members, said to let the kid play. The council then canceled plans to build a separate course for African Americans.
It’s a moment of social justice that is certainly worthy of memorializing, but I’m not sure the memorial has to be an 18-hole golf course. Reducing Austin’s persistent segregation seems more fitting.
There were two key factors limiting what I wrote in this article: word limits and time limits. I only had so many words to work with and also, because of the way monthly mags work, I wrote the thing nearly two months ago. So the article didn’t include some of the recent maneuvers by City Council to save the golf course.
What’s happening now is that City Council is asking UT, which owns the course, to allow the city more time to negotiate a deal to save the course. Basically, right now the city pays UT $500k a year to lease the property, likely a fraction of whatever it would fetch on the open market. At the very least, it looks like UT is demanding a substantial rent hike.
It doesn’t look like anybody on City Council agrees (at least not openly) that we should eagerly welcome the replacement of Muny with a mixed-use development. But now that we’re entering negotiations with UT, I wonder how much each Council member believes the city should be willing to pay to retain the golf course. $2 million a year? $5 million? $10 million? And what other city programs will we take money away from as a result? Whatever the number is, I hope Council members remember it in the final days of next year’s budget deliberations, as they scramble to find spare dollars and cents to fund homelessness services, after-school programs, fire stations …
Again, if the tract is turned over to private development, it will be a PUD, meaning the city will have an enormous amount of leverage to guide the development in a way that aligns with, as everyone in Austin likes to say, “our community values.”