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Lions Municipal legislation creating questions for city course

Tuesday, May 14, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

With momentum growing behind legislation that could change the ownership and operational framework of the West Austin property that contains Lions Municipal Golf Course, city leaders are watching closely to see what options might become available for future use of the property.

Earlier this month, state Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin filed a bill that would create a special district including the golf course and several contiguous West Austin neighborhoods, opening up the possibility for philanthropic money or other funding sources that would be used to purchase the land currently owned by the University of Texas.

Last week that bill was passed unanimously in the Senate and is currently in the County Affairs Committee of the state House, where it has been sponsored by Rep. Donna Howard of Austin. The bill seeks to preserve the golf course property as a course or as green space, which runs counter to UT’s plans to develop the 141-acre Brackenridge tract.

The matter hasn’t advanced far enough to trigger action or official consideration from City Council, but it’s becoming a more visible issue for Council Member Alison Alter, whose district includes the golf course and its associated property.

“I remain committed to acquiring Muny. The city has been in earnest negotiations with the university on this matter and my focus is on arriving at a successful outcome to those negotiations,” she said via email.

“I welcome any tool that will help the city and the community to raise public or private dollars to that end. I applaud the hard work of all the advocates who have put in time and energy into this beloved green space. This endeavor will require philanthropy and continued community support so I urge anyone who values Muny to join us in this effort.”

The future of the golf course, which is registered as a national historic site, has been a hot-button issue for years, with the city and UT making short-term extensions to the city’s lease of the land but offering no clear way forward to address the university’s goal of getting more value from the property.

Watson said his first priority with the legislation was finding a way to preserve the tract as green space or a golf course while allowing residents and city leaders to decide financing and other questions.

“I’ve made it clear in my conversations with the university, local leaders and the city that this is ultimately the responsibility of the city and UT to reach some agreement regarding the future of this land.  I have not – and will not – prejudge an outcome,” Watson said via email.

“But I believe this is a unique opportunity to preserve green space (as a golf course, park or combination of the two) in a very urban setting. I’d hate for us to lose this space. I’ve also said that I believe the community and neighborhood that has grown up and developed around Muny has a reasonable expectation for it to continue as generally undeveloped green space, be that as a golf course, park or some combination thereof – that’s a decision for the local community to make.”

Howard told the Austin Monitor that years of talks and negotiations over the property have suggested that finding a mechanism to pay for the property transfer or create a partnership with UT has been the biggest obstacle to resolving the issue. She said the creation of the proposed district would be one way to solve that problem.

Currently the city leases the golf course property for $500,000 a year. UT representatives have gone on record saying the school will sell the land to the city for less than its fair market value, but it has been speculated the price would still be more than $100 million.

Mayor Steve Adler told the Monitor he supports the push to preserve the Brackenridge tract as green space. He said Watson and Howard’s legislative efforts will likely create a possible way to solve the ownership question, though City Council will have to decide the best way to “transfer value” to UT.

“The question with UT relates to what’s reasonably viable in terms of uses to all parts of the property, and what’s the appropriate value for the city to pay,” he said.

“Right now I don’t know what that value would be and if you consider the portions of the property including the student housing and the field lab and other features. There’s lots of ways to get that value transferred, in the form of development entitlements, or cooperating and locking arms together to address other challenges facing the community.”

Photo by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 3.0.

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