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Long Park golf courses moving forward

Friday, October 24, 2014 by Michael Kanin

A proposal for a pair of golf courses at the current open space at Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park took a small step forward at City Council on Thursday. However, though Council members OK’d staff negotiations with the potential concession-holder for the facility — Decker Lake Golf LLC — they instructed staff to bring any agreement back for final approval.

They also sought to ensure that all stakeholders have a chance to weigh in on the project. “There do seem to be a large number of things to be considered in terms of community input,” said Council Member Kathie Tovo.

City Parks and Recreation Department head Sara Hensley told Council members that she would hold another public meeting about the matter. She also took the opportunity to expound on the nature of the pending agreement, as well as the thoughts of her department regarding its funding.

Hensley said that she hoped to move forward, in part, to have a positive economic impact on Colony Park, whose residents felt disenfranchised by the lack of forward movement on their master plan. She said the opportunity would help her “do the things that need to be done” in the area and help answer questions regarding housing and redevelopment, and help the city partner with the Austin Rodeo.

She continued: “I get called out every time on this: I am not selling parkland. I will never sell parkland. What I’m trying to do is create something that will bridge this future for us. Otherwise, I will be here five years from now without a park maintained, without a park redeveloped, and I’ll have nothing to show for it and the citizens will come back to me and say, ‘When are you going to do this?'”

Course supporters argue that the facility would spur economic growth and development in East Austin. As the Monitor reported last week, project developers put potential economic impact numbers at just over $229 million over 10 years.

Course developers also suggest that PGA officials may be interested in the potential course as a tour stop. They put the impact of such an event at between $50 and $70 million annually.

Last week, Council members questioned those figures. This week, they focused mostly on citizen involvement in the discussion and the fact that they had yet to see the document that would govern a relationship between the city and Decker Lake Golf.

Decker Lake Golf representative Richard Suttle of Armbrust & Brown compared the situation to Council’s recent thought to acquire a piece of land along Bull Creek. “I’ve been working on this for probably the better part of a couple of years, trying to come up with a way to solve a problem that has complications that are very similar to an issue you all wrestled with just in the last few weeks, and that is purchasing Bull Creek.”

“The city is limited in the way that it can finance things, you are limited by your finances, you are limited by the way you can do things,” Suttle continued. “And yet we sit out there with a Decker Lake master plan that has a golf course on it. You’ve never been able to figure out a way to do it. We have finally figured out a mechanism to do it.”

Austin Sierra Club representative Roy Waley called on Council members to postpone a decision on the courses until the new 10-1 Council is seated. “There is not an overriding pressing need for you to deal with this at this time,” he said. “As you have heard over and over, this has been (considered) since the mid-’60s — for 50 years — let’s wait to make this decision. This is not do-or-die, make-or-break. This is about parkland, and it is about economics.”

Waley then went on to question the impact of the courses, citing a Bloomberg News report that suggests interest in golf may be in decline.

Council members indicated their intent to make a final decision about the course by the end of the year.

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