"Things change, times change, the needs of the community change"
Bob Becker, City Park CEO
We couldn't have said it better ourselves. But perhaps the change this community needs is a little more park and a little less golf course in City Park.
In August of 2005, Katrina's floodwaters shut down the golf courses in City Park that had claimed more than half of the available land in the park for generations. Yet the disaster had an unexpected silver lining: areas of the park to which the non-golfing public had been denied access since the 1950's were discovered, welcomed, and enjoyed.
Now, rather than recognize the changing desires of the community for more passive green space, less development, and more affordable recreational options, City Park management is proposing to use $46 million dollars of public and private money to build brand new and expanded "PGA-quality" golf courses and a new clubhouse.
On Tuesday March 10, 2009 at the Pavilion of the Two Sisters in City Park, the City Park Improvement Association held a well-attended public meeting to consider amendments to the City Park Master Plan and heard comments on the new proposed Master Plan for golf.
Of the 38 speakers, only 7 out of 38 supported the current plan as presented. 7 other pro-golf speakers spoke AGAINST this plan, largely because it would make golf in City Park unaffordable. 7 additional speakers spoke against the plan because of the high price-tag and lack of economic feasibility data, 13 speakers spoke against the plan out of nature and green space concerns and the lack of any environmental impact studies, 1 spoke against it because of the lack of public notice in the media, and 3 were neither pro nor con. Most objective observers would have labeled the opposition as "overwhelming".
This site was created as a bulletin board to help keep users of City Park informed about revisions to City Park's Master Plan, particularly the plans for the golf courses and the impact these developments may have on the rest of the park. If any news articles or other relevant information has been overlooked, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org, or submit a comments form on any article. The various park plan renderings are posted here on this site in the RESOURCES section for easy reference. The 2005 and 2007 Master Plans are also posted here at the bottom of the RESOURCES section.
Before the storm, the plan called for renovations to the three remaining courses and clubhouse (the south course was already scheduled to be shut down). As outlined in the 2005 Master Plan, the cost was estimated at $21 million dollars spread out over three phases, and there would be no expansion of the golf footprint in the park north of I-610. Even in the revised Master Plan revealed in November 2007, the cost of the renovation appeared the same as in 2005. However, we had the first indication that an attempt to expand the golf course footprint was in the works as part of the Bayou District Foundation's golf proposal. Now in February 2009, the full cost and physical details of the new golf plan are revealed, and it is very, very different from what the 2005 Master Plan had led the public to expect.
The amount of land in New Orleans' public parks consumed by golf courses, that effectively reserve the land for the exclusive use of a few, has been a contentious issue in the past.
In 2001, with current City Park CEO Bob Becker in the job of Audubon Nature Institute (ANI) Planning VP, a $3.5 million "renovation" of the Audubon Park golf course mysteriously morphed into a $6 million total reconstruction, and was sprung on an unsuspecting non-golfing public as a done deal. People were outraged at the price-tag, the use of so much public money and public land to benefit so few park users, and the sneaky way in which the ANI had expanded the project.
Another similarity is the "golf revenue myth" (or excuse, depending on one's perspective). Just as City Park's Board is doing now, the ANI claimed in 2001 that the new golf course and clubhouse complex was necessary to "provide operational funds for maintenance of Audubon Park." Despite glowing revenue projections presented to the public, their much-heralded new facility finished its first full year of operation (2003) firmly in the red, with a loss of $336,300. Even though they quickly began renting the clubhouse as a private party rental facility to generate more income, something they had vowed would never happen, the golf facility has continued to lose money, and closed 2007 with a loss of $415,819 (even with all other public courses in the city out of commission). Ironically, the last year the Audubon Golf Course made a profit was the year BEFORE the new golf course was developed.
This golf plan will be no different for City Park. Before the storm, the total revenue of the park was consistently in the $10-$11 million range, with the gross revenues from golf comprising approximately one-third of the total, and the net revenue often less than the amusements and catering facilities in the park. But at least golf did make some profit each year; if this plan goes through, the high maintenance costs of the "PGA-quality" courses are likely to devour any profits, even at the high green fees already projected.
Lack of transparency
Yet another very divisive issue in 2001 was the ANI's insistence that the plans were only relevant to golfers, rather than to all users of the park. Information about the project was printed primarily in the Sports section of the Times Picayune, and Mr Becker held meetings only with golfers and not the general public. Most non-golfing users of the park found out the real details of the plan's wide-ranging effects on the park only after the fences went up, an article with maps appeared in the Living Section of the TP, and the website SaveAudubonPark.org was launched.
While City Park management has done a far better job than the ANI with regard to public input into park planning, and the development of the City Park Master Plan both before and after Katrina seemed an admirably transparent public process, unfortunately, notice of this new $46 million plan for the future of half the land in City Park was once again buried in the Sports section, as if it only affected golfers rather than all users of the park.
A giant step backwards
A recurring theme during the development of the 2005 City Park Master Plan was the desire of many park users for more passive green space and areas of undeveloped natural habitat—basically, to allow more "park" in City Park—and the desire of many users for more varied recreational options, all of which required space. The 2005 plan attempted to balance some of these desires with the ever-present need for revenue.
The 2007 revision of the Master Plan and the expensive proposals for the new golf complex represent a major step backward for City Park and for the citizens who worked so hard to bring about improvements that could benefit all park users. Is a $46 million "PGA-quality" golf complex, with all its associated high maintenance and management expenses, really the best way to provide an affordable golfing experience for New Orleans' public course golfers?