An Austin mediator is urging the city to sell off most of Hancock Golf Course — a 114-year-old course in Central Austin — to create a subdivision with 50-60 homes, shops and a park.
Jim Huddleston estimates that under his proposal, which he will present to Austin’s parks board Tuesday, the city would spend $10 million on development costs, such as building roads and cul-de-sacs for the subdivision, and would make $20 million selling lots for homes and leasing or selling retail space.
The nine-hole, 45-acre course has been losing money for years and city leaders need to have the courage to defy vocal neighborhood groups and turn the land into a profitable asset, he said.
“My question is, what are they waiting for?” said Huddleston, managing partner at Crawford, Huddleston & Co., which he said mostly mediates mergers and acquisitions. “The city could make $10 million, get 60 new taxpayers and close a golf course that is losing money.”
Parks Director Sara Hensley and several neighborhood groups said Monday that they oppose the idea.
Carolyn Palaima, president of Hancock Neighborhood Association, said the city needs to find better ways of funding and maintaining parks than selling them off.
“If these are the kinds of schemes that are coming forward and getting City Council attention and parks board attention, we need to do some serious work. … We need a vision and a budget to adequately fund parks citywide,” she said.
Huddleston is not a builder or developer, and said he has not done a deal like this before but has had many clients who work in land development.
His offer to the city is not to buy or redevelop the land himself, but to manage several facets of the redevelopment for the city. He would charge the city $80,000 — $1,000 a week for 80 weeks — and wants one subdivided lot, which he estimates would be worth $300,000.
He said he proposed this plan to the parks department three years ago and it didn’t get anywhere.
Hensley told the American-Statesman on Monday that she put the proposal on the parks board’s Tuesday agenda at the request of a board member who had heard that Huddleston had been floating his plan to City Council members.
“We wanted it to be vetted out in public,” Hensley said. “But my department does not support this proposal.”
Hancock Golf Course was founded in 1899 by Lewis Hancock Jr., a former Austin mayor. It is thought to be one of the oldest — if not the oldest — continuously operating golf courses in Texas and west of the Mississippi River. The late Harvey Penick, a Hall of Fame golf coach and bestselling author, started as a caddy there.
The course was once Austin Country Club, then was bought by the city in 1946. In 1959, the city sold nine of the holes to make way for what is now Hancock Shopping Center.
The city of Austin owns four courses and leases land for a fifth: Lions Municipal Golf Course. Of those five, Hancock is the only course that has consistently lost money for the past several years, said Kevin Gomillion, the parks department’s division manager over golf.
On average, there are about 13,000 rounds of golf played at Hancock each year, compared with 45,000 to 60,000 at the other four courses, which all have 18 holes, Gomillion said.
Hancock costs about $400,000 a year to operate and the city has lost between $50,000 and $150,000 a year on the course in recent years, he said.
Until recently, Hancock was the only golf course that the city irrigated with potable water, or drinking water, Gomillion said. The course fell into rough shape during the drought partly because the parks department had to follow the city’s limits on watering with potable water, he said.
This year, the city installed a $615,000 irrigation system that uses reclaimed water, or treated wastewater, and the condition of the course has begun to improve, Gomillion said.
The University of Texas, which owns Lions golf course, has a long-term plan to turn that land into housing, offices and retail.
Delano Womack, a member of a group that advises Austin’s parks department about golf issues, said Hancock is an asset the city shouldn’t relinquish.
“It’s one of the oldest courses out there,” he said. “I don’t know why anyone would want to take away that history.”
Because Huddleston’s proposal would use public parkland for profit, the plan would have to be approved by the City Council and Austin voters to become reality, assistant parks director Jesse Vargas said.
Hensley said parks officials held meetings a year ago to get input from residents near Hancock about what they’d like to see on that land in the future. Overwhelmingly, residents said they wanted it to remain a golf course, she said.
In a Monday letter to Hensley, Huddleston said Hancock Golf Course “is functionally obsolete and should be discontinued.” The new development would be a “sustainable showplace” to “replace (an) existing eyesore,” he wrote.
He added that “the current political dysfunction cannot work this puzzle. A part of the city’s method is to pick a fight and defend the wrong side. I’m not offering you such a fight — I’m offering you a path forward.”
His plan calls for improving the Waller Creek bed that runs through the property; selling 50-60 subdivided lots for homes; developing shops on three acres, around an existing building that the city uses as a recreation center; and creating a public park.
Not-so-subtly taking aim at vocal neighborhood associations nearby, Huddleston wrote: “If development of public properties was transacted strictly on the merits … then off-message detractors would have no voice in municipal government.”
If you go
Austin’s parks board will discuss a proposal Tuesday to redevelop Hancock Golf Course into homes, shops and a park. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the Boards and Commissions Room at Austin City Hall, 301 W. Second St.