Update (6:27 p.m.): The Senate passed SB 822, which would transfer the ownership of the Lions Municipal Golf Course from the University to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, by a 21-10 vote Tuesday.
A companion bill could now be considered in a House committee at a later date.
Original post: The debate over Lions Municipal Golf Course could soon come to an end.
The Texas Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee voted 6-5 Tuesday to transfer the ownership of the golf course, also known as Muny, from the University to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. The bill will now be taken to the full Senate for a vote at a later date.
Senate Bill 822, authored by Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, and Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, aims to preserve the land as a golf course and its historical background as one of the first desegregated golf courses in the South.
“Lions Municipal Golf Course is a treasure whose value goes far beyond mere dollars and cents,” Estes said in a written statement Tuesday. “I am truly baffled that a public institution of learning with the second largest endowment fund of any university in the world would be so shortsighted as to insist that it be developed for financial gain.”
In 2011, the UT System Board of Regents voted to let the lease of the course expire in 2019. The Board also considered the possibility of using the land for other developmental purposes, such as for shops, homes and hotels. The System said the land was donated specifically for educational purposes by former Board of Regents member George W. Brackenridge in 1910.
“Any redirection of a gift outside of the intent of the donor may dissuade philanthropic giving to public institutions in Texas, and even for state agencies or any public entity that benefits from the generosity of donors,” said Karen Adler, director of media relations and communications programming for the UT System.
The University could receive $5.5 million a year with the new developments versus the $414,720 the city of Austin pays annually to lease the course, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
UT President Gregory Fenves offered to extend the city of Austin’s lease of Muny through a letter written in January to Mayor Steve Adler. Fenves said the University and the city of Austin can find ways to negotiate the renewal of the lease.
Supporters of the bill believe the golf course enables people with different backgrounds to come together and play golf.
“(Muny) is used by a lot of different kinds of people, all sorts of ages … different colors, sizes and shape,” Save Muny co-chair Mary Arnold said. “If you’re standing on a condominium complex and you read a sign that says ‘This is where two black youths played a round of golf and weren’t thrown out,’ I think it would be a much better story and more visceral if you were standing on the golf course itself and read a sign like that and could imagine in your mind’s eye what it must’ve been like for those two kids.”