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Staff pitches Long Park golf course project

Friday, October 17, 2014 by Michael Kanin

City Council members got their first public look at a set of golf courses proposed by staff for development at Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park on Thursday. According to staff, the facility would cost city taxpayers nothing, and would come with an agreement that could send a segment of course revenues back to Austin coffers.

Still, Council Member Laura Morrison worried about affordability both in terms of greens fees — which are currently project to be somewhere between $150 and $200 for nonresidents and between $85 and $90 for Austinites — and the surrounding neighborhood.

“Thirty years from now, what pressures do we see coming on housing?” she asked. “Because if it’s going to be this economic boom and a destination … we could see a huge increase in housing prices and all of a sudden we’re in a really bad situation of driving out the folks that live there.”

Morrison raised the potential of a homestead preservation district for the area. This has been a somewhat controversial topic at Travis County Commissioners Court, where Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis — who represents the area including the Long Park — has been adamantly opposed to the idea.

In addition to a slice of revenue, staff suggested the city might benefit from an additional set of positive economic factors they argue would also come with the courses. Joe Ogilvie, a representative of Decker Lake Golf LLC, the group that hopes to run the courses, estimated that the city could see up to just over $229 million in direct and indirect spending related to the project.

Ogilvie also noted that the Professional Golfers Association was interested in using the site as a spot on its tour. He put the potential added revenue from such an event at between $50 million and $70 million annually.

He said that the PGA revenue impact was not included in the $229 million figure.

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole questioned those figures. Ogilvie responded that the numbers were drawn from information his group obtained from the Austin Convention Center and Visitors Bureau. He noted that Decker Lake Golf had based its assumptions on data associated with the city’s Formula 1 event.

Cole wanted something more concrete. “My concern is that I would think we would be able to get our arms around a figure real solid, like Hotel Occupancy tax — like you would know at an average PGA golf tournament you usually have this many visitors, and they usually stay (this many nights),” she said, noting that she didn’t see such figures.

Ogilvie admitted that his group didn’t have the “expertise” to provide those numbers.

The space in question is currently used as park land and is favored by local birders and outdoor recreation aficionados. However, staff maintain that the land is hard to access and underutilized.

Project and staff reps were also careful to note that the courses would be developed with attention paid to water availability concerns.

Because Council members were scheduled for only a briefing, no citizen comment was delivered on the item. That could very well change next week when the project is scheduled for a vote.


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