The University of Texas might be able to avoid losing 141 acres of its Brackenridge tract in West Austin to a state agency without any compensation — at least for now.
Time is running short in the legislative session for a measure that would transfer Lions Municipal Golf Course to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, but prospects for preserving the course through other means have brightened somewhat, according to a key state legislator.
Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, said he is encouraged by meetings he has attended in recent weeks involving various players in the matter, including UT President Gregory L. Fenves, UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven and Austin Mayor Steve Adler.
Larson said pro golfer Ben Crenshaw, who grew up playing Lions Municipal, also known as Muny, gave a terrific presentation last week on his plan to raise as much as $12 million in private donations for renovations that would restore the 1950s layout.
“The tone and tenor of meetings have progressed nicely,” Larson said. “We’ve had meetings for three weeks in a row. I think we’re working towards reconciliation.”
The Senate approved a measure a month ago that would transfer Muny to Parks and Wildlife. Senate Bill 822, authored by Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, didn’t get assigned to the House Land and Resource Management Committee until Monday, suggesting that House Speaker Joe Straus might not be a big fan of the measure. Still, that action injects some new life into the measure and increases pressure on UT to work something out.
If SB 822 doesn’t clear the House, and if Austin and UT can’t reach an agreement preserving Muny, another bill to preserve the course will be filed when lawmakers gather for their next regular session, in 2019, Larson said. The city has leased the Muny property from UT for decades.
Estes, Larson and leaders of a group known as Save Muny say the course warrants preservation not only to maintain green space and golfing opportunities in the heart of a growing city but also to honor the site’s civil rights history. It was one of the first municipal courses in the former Confederate states to be desegregated, if not the first to achieve that distinction, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. A Texas Historical Commission marker also notes its early integration.
The UT System Board of Regents has contemplated leasing Muny for a mixed-use development for years. But the National Register listing and the proposed legislation have pretty much forced UT to soften its position. Fenves has said he hopes to work out an arrangement with the city that preserves the course and allows UT to get some income.
Larson said various approaches have been discussed in the meetings, including a land swap in which the city would get Muny and UT would get city-owned land closer to campus as well as expanded development rights on other portions of the 350-acre Brackenridge tract.
Additional development rights for university-owned land at Montopolis and at West Pickle, a parcel between MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) and U.S. 183 in North Austin, could also be in the mix, as could an increase in the rent that the city pays UT for the Muny property.
“UT and Austin are constructively talking about our common challenge of putting the 350-acre Brack tracts (including the golf course) to the uses that best serve the students and the community in which they live,” Adler said in a statement to the American-Statesman. “This is an iconic space, and 150 years from now we want future generations to be proud of the actions I trust we’ll take together now.”
“We’ve had productive discussions,” Fenves said in the statement. “I remain optimistic UT and the city of Austin will work out an understanding that serves the community’s interests while honoring Col. Brackenridge’s intent to create a lasting benefit for UT students.”
George Brackenridge, a banker and regent, donated the tract in 1910 in hopes that it would become the main campus, a dream that was never realized. The city’s lease for Muny expires in May 2019.
UT also leases portions of the tract for a grocery store, restaurants, a marina, shops, an apartment complex and the headquarters of the Lower Colorado River Authority. Other parts are occupied by a biological field laboratory and about 500 student apartments.