More than 700 people have signed an online petition urging BREC to remake the historic City-Brooks Community Park Golf Course into a “central park” for Baton Rouge, but opponents have formed a committee to fight the idea.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission has taken no position on what to do with the aging course, but plans to solicit public input through meetings, surveys and other methods on the future of City-Brooks Park throughout the remainder of the year, Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said.
The input will help BREC officials craft a master plan for the next 10 years ahead of a 2014 election on two property tax renewals that are anticipated to bring in a combined $20.5 million for BREC in 2013.
The petition, which Greater Baton Rouge Business Report Publisher Rolfe McCollister Jr. put on the website Change.org last month, had 701 electronic signatures and dozens of supportive comments Tuesday afternoon.
It’s not the first time McCollister has proposed changing the use of City-Brooks Park, which is generally bordered by Perkins Road, East Lakeshore Drive and Dalrymple Drive. In 2002, McCollister spearheaded a movement to place a parish library on the site.
BREC opted to keep the golf course there, and renovated it in 2007 and 2008.
“The existing nine-hole golf course has limited appeal,” the petition says. “The course should be closed, making way for a gem that all in Baton Rouge can enjoy.”
The petition says changing the park “would make it a perfect place for many activities enjoyed by families couples, students, young adults and seniors.”
McCollister refused to comment for this story, and referred all questions to Bryan Jones, who is leading a charge and a group, Spark City Park, to make over the park.
“Long-term, we need to look at City Park, the space and the land, and it needs to be part of a larger plan,” Jones said. “The rest of the public who utilize the LSU lakes and the dog park are limited to a somewhat confined amount of space.”
The golf course would be preserved as “green space,” similar to the LSU Parade Ground, he said.
“That’s a space all people can enjoy,” Jones said.
Jones said the decline in yearly rounds played at the golf course was evidence of diminished demand.
The number of rounds played at the course has gone from 21,887 in 2009 to 16,335 in 2012, according to numbers provided by BREC.
“There are thousands of people who are forced onto the perimeter of City Park to run, to bike and to walk,” Jones said. “We want the space to be utilized at its highest, best use.”
A rival group, composed of those who want the golf course to remain as it is, has also been formed.
Leaders of the The Friends of the Historic City Park Golf Course say there is no need to change the course, which opened in 1928 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It already is a public green space,” said Bill Huey, a member of the group. “It’s just used for golf.”
Clarence von Aspern, a golf teaching professional, said the park serves an important role in bringing new players into the game.
“The toughest thing is for a beginner to transition from the practice tee to the course,” he said.
Von Aspern said he takes students to City-Brooks Park’s golf course to teach them course etiquette.
“It’s not a hard course, it’s short,” he said of the 2,300-yard, par 32, nine-hole layout.
Several members of the group lauded the low-cost, low-intensity play at City-Brooks Park. A weekday, nine-hole green fee is $6 for a player who walks. For 18 holes, with a cart, it costs $22 on a weekday.
Golfers on the course Tuesday also almost unanimously opposed the idea.
“It would be a shame if they changed it,” said David Addison just before teeing off on hole No. 7. “They have enough parks now.”
Addison, who plays the 25-acre, nine-hole course five times a week, said he had been playing the course since 1963, but said if they closed the course, he would probably go to Webb Park at College Drive and South Foster Drive, less than two miles away.
Addison’s comments were echoed by several other golfers on the course Tuesday.
Zack Romanasky, just a few holes behind Addison, said he would use the park either way.
“I live in the Garden District, so it’s ideal for me,” he said gesturing at the course. If the park was changed to an open green space, though, it wouldn’t stop him visiting, he said.
“Coming out here with my fiancée would be cool,” Romanasky said.
McKnight said BREC was open to input from both sides of the issue.
“I think it is good timing because we are updating our strategic plan,” McKnight said of the petition. “The goal is to go out to the public and ask them what they want to see.”
McKnight has been vocal about the need to bring more golfers to help sustain the park system’s seven courses.
“Could the play at City be higher? Of course it could be,” she said. “In order to keep the golf program viable, I have to keep getting more players.”
Since City-Brooks Park is a community park, McKnight said, the question of what to do with it will be put to the parish as a whole.
“I envision that we will have surveys and various issues and methods” of collecting data, she said. “We can’t close something without putting something else in its place.”