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Kitchen backs reopening Butler Park golf course contract

Monday, May 13, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

City staff has been directed to examine options to reopen the bid process for management of the Butler Park Pitch and Putt golf course so the longtime owner of the course can be considered for a contract extension.

City Council Member Ann Kitchen, whose South Austin district includes the parkland property off South Lamar Boulevard where the course sits, told the Austin Monitor that the five-year contract currently up for consideration will likely be reworked so current owner Lee Kinser can have her bid evaluated along with two other finalists. Kinser, whose family has owned and managed the course for 70 years, had her bid disqualified because she neglected to include one signature in the 80-page document.

“I think it would be appropriate for the city for the Pitch and Putt contract to be reconsidered,” Kitchen said Friday. “That could be rebidding, maybe canceling the (request for proposal) and redo the process. Staff will bring their ideas to us and then we’ll go from there. Whatever happened there, it’s not a lot to be gained to leave behind a company that’s been a part of the community for a long time, and not have them even be evaluated.”

Kitchen and other Council members had previously kept quiet about the Butler Park issue because of the city’s anti-lobbying regulations that prevent contact between decision makers and applicants during an open bid process. She said that while staff managing the process followed procedure in disqualifying the bid, there is room for special consideration.

“There was no mistake in the process because that’s what the rules say, but from the standpoint of what’s intended I think we can take another look,” she said.

Kinser’s contract is set to expire in August. Kitchen said Council could decide to make a short-term extension for Kinser if the reopened bidding process stretches that long.

The Parks and Recreation Board’s contracts and concessions committee is set to meet Tuesday and consider a recommendation to City Council that Pecan Grove Golf Partners receive the golfing concessions contract for the Butler Park course.

While lobbying rules prevent Kinser from speaking on the issue, she has lined up supporters to speak on her behalf at the meeting prior to the vote. The speakers will also give the board a petition with more than 300 signatures in support of her bid being considered.

On Friday, more than 200 people showed up at the golf course to rally in support of Kinser’s push to maintain ownership and management. She said her proposal would make improvements to greens and tee boxes and landscaping with only a $1 increase in greens fees in a move to retain longtime customers.

“Our point of view is that if you put in a million dollars or more into this you’re going to have to double or triple the greens fees to cover that, and our people are not country club people, they’re families and senior citizens,” she said. “We won’t be as nice as a country club, but what we’ve done in all our years here is tried to serve our niche. If they want to award the people looking to spend a million dollars in then they’ll lose half the customers because those people can’t afford $25 greens fees.”

The current contract with Kinser gives the city 12 percent of gross revenue as rent for using the parkland. In 2018, that amounted to just over $87,000 in revenue for the city.

Council Member Kitchen included this message in her monthly email newsletter to constituents: “I share the concerns that many have expressed regarding the legacy and potential change in management of the Pitch and Putt, and intend to support a process that allows all bidders another chance at competing for this contract. We will continue to monitor this situation and city staff have indicated they expect to bring this before the Council in the coming weeks.”

Photo by WhisperToMe [Public domain].

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