Guest commentary from City Park for Everyone Coalition: Golf course a poor use for New Orleans land _lowres

Chris Lane

Who is the “City Park for Everyone Coalition”? What are we protesting and why?

We are homeowners, business owners, artists, fiscal conservatives, golfers, bird watchers, students, parents and fishermen. This coalition is working together to halt the development of a new golf course while preserving the park’s continued open access to green spaces. We have protested peacefully and will continue to do so.

This coalition has nothing against golf; we just see that there are plenty of other places to tee off. There are 11 golf courses in the metro area, including one in City Park. But there’s only one unique space in City Park that has been used by thousands of citizens for hundreds of uses in the last 9½ years, and it is about to be closed down for just one use.

This is city-owned public space, and it is wild space. It’s been a de facto nature preserve since Katrina. This is the only space in the middle of the city where you can hike, fly a kite, bike, fish, have a picnic and see wildlife in a wild space. That will be lost.

We love City Park, and we’re trying to save it from a terrible financial decision. Five years ago, TPC, the West Bank pro course, needed a $30 million state bailout. Audubon’s course has lost money for a decade. Golf has been in decline for years. Don’t take our word for it: ESPN, the Wall Street Journal and Forbes have been reporting on this. They say golf is in “structural decline.”

We haven’t seen evidence that City Park has done serious economic study for this plan. Instead, it seems possible that it will need another bailout to keep this golf course open.

City Park says it needs to find a revenue source from this acreage north of Harrison Avenue. We’re not convinced this course is going to make money — but let’s just suppose that it does. If you take the board’s best estimates for future revenue from both a future course and the North Course, they will be able to generate $1.5 million while using about 40 percent of the existing park lands. But the entire park budget is $16 million. If you owned a business and dedicated 40 percent of your efforts to generate 9 percent of your budget, any sound business manager would tell you that’s a bad plan.

There is $10 million in state funds included in this plan. Meanwhile, the state budget crisis is causing budgets to be slashed for universities and schools. LSU and UNO are teetering on the brink of collapse. We have golfers in our coalition who say those priorities make no sense.

If there are thousands of people who want to use it as it is … maybe someone should figure out how to generate revenue from that?

There is a great deal of public frustration with City Park over this issue because its process has been single-mindedly focused on a single plan while being uninterested in listening to alternatives. In fact, there’s only been ONE public comment meeting on THIS golf plan. CEO Bob Becker says there have been five, but he’s counting meetings that debated two other golf course plans including those before Katrina. That doesn’t meet the letter or spirit of the law.

Additionally, the board of City Park is 95 percent white, two-thirds male and either elects itself or is appointed. City Park has its own special sales tax district, yet it is not publicly accountable. That’s taxation without representation. The acreage in question is owned by the city of New Orleans, and if it’s called “City Park,” shouldn’t its board be democratically representative and governed by the people of our city?

We seek a halt to this construction and a reopening of the planning process for this wild space. We demand a democratic process that takes citizens’ needs into account for use of public space, including public election of a board. We are pursuing the will of the people and challenge City Park to prove otherwise. We offer the leadership of City Park an alternative to lawsuits and protest: Legitimize this development through the hallowed American process of the ballot box.

Christopher Lane is vice president of the City Park for Everyone Coalition.