Brechtel Park Golf Course, once a popular destination for recreational golfers looking to play an inexpensive round, now is visited only by the city work crews who come by occasionally to cut the grass.
The 115-acre course and driving range, which sits off Behr-man Highway in Algiers, has been in limbo since it closed in 2011. Hurricane Katrina had destroyed its irrigation system and the course became essentially unusable, so many golfers stopped coming.
Today, portions of the fence are overgrown with vines or fallen down, and golf clubs, bags and shoes litter the floor of the empty clubhouse.
After two efforts by the city to find someone prepared to redevelop Brechtel as an 18-hole course found no takers, it appears likely that the course will be reborn as something different. What that will be is uncertain.
The Mayor’s Office is mum on Brechtel’s status, issuing a statement saying only that it is “continuing to review options” for redeveloping the course and the adjacent 100-acre park. But there is no shortage of ideas among those who want to see it come back to life in some form.
One project that has been discussed is the construction of an indoor swimming pool, or natatorium.
An internal capital-projects memo from the city dated Oct. 30 suggests that a pool and a refurbished driving range, along with other improvements to the park, might be City Hall’s idea for Brechtel’s future.
Incoming City Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, who takes office Monday, could not be reached for comment. But Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, who has represented the district that includes Algiers for the past four years, said the city still has nearly $7 million in FEMA funds for the course’s redevelopment.
Palmer said that while other nearby courses on the West Bank are private and more expensive to play, they’ve proved to be enough of a competitive pressure to keep any serious bidders from proposing to operate Brechtel as an 18-hole course.
She said a driving range likely still makes sense and a public pool complex is badly needed in Algiers.
The key, however, is that whatever gets built needs to be something the public wants and will use, so that it doesn’t become a financial drain on the city, Palmer said.
Paul Richard, a board member of the West Bank Redevelopment Corp., said he thinks a smaller course — sometimes known as a “short iron” course — might be feasible for the site, but he said the course’s next incarnation should be decided through input from the public.
“If this golf course is not going to be a golf course, then there should be a very public conversation about what is important to the people of Algiers,” he said.
Richard also said the course’s redevelopment should go hand-in-hand with improvements to Brechtel Park. The redevelopment agency and the city’s Parks and Parkways Department commissioned a master plan and ecological plan for the park in 2012.
The result was a five-phase plan to repair the park’s storm-damaged ecosystem and add trails and other amenities that would upgrade the park and its lagoons at a cost of $2.3 million.
Richard said he’s not sure if the money slated for the course’s redevelopment could be used on the park, but he said the combined area is too important a public asset to lie dormant and underutilized much longer.
Derrick Martin, executive director of the Algiers Economic Development Foundation, said that even though there have been public forums about the park, information from the Mayor’s Office has been tough to come by.
Martin said he’d like to see the golf course converted into an entertainment destination with a movie theater, miniature golf course and retail opportunities. That space could be connected to the adjacent Brechtel Park via footbridges over the canal that separates the two.
He said residents have expressed an interest in that kind of development, and he’ll be looking for interest at a major retail conference he’ll be attending in Las Vegas this month. He noted, however, that the final decision rests with the city and all he can really do is bring interested parties to the table.