The Austin City Council approved the acquisition of the Grey Rock Golf Club's courses and tennis facility today, allocating $9.6 million of the Parks and Recreation Department’s budget for the purchase.
The course sits on 292 acres of south of Lady Bird Lake, adjacent to the Circle C subdivision. The course lies in the environmentally sensitive Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone.
City Deputy Chief Financial Officer Greg Canally called the Grey Rock purchase a “unique opportunity to acquire a piece of land that actually comes with an existing revenue stream.” Some of that existing revenue will be leveraged to pay off an estimated $400,000 in debt service; the department estimates the revenue will cover half of that amount.
So how will the other half of the debt be paid?
Canally said the existing tax rate would yield enough to cover the cost. But council member Laura Morrison had questions.
“We need to keep in mind that if in fact we didn’t have this added debt service we could lower the tax rate by that much,” Morrison said. “It’s not like free money.”
Morrison cited other areas in “dire need” of park space – areas that the city hasn’t allocated any money for, like the Crestview and St. Johns neighborhoods.
“I’m just at a loss to understand why we can say to one area that appears to be a very high priority, ‘There’s no money,’ and on the other hand we’re saying there’s money here,” she said.
Parks department director Sara Hensley said the decision to purchase the Grey Rock land does not negate the importance of any other areas of the city. Hensley said the department felt the Grey Rock purchase could not be passed up because of the opportunities it presented: an existing revenue stream, plus the opportunity to preserve a large swath of green space over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.
So how will green fees at the course compare against Austin's existing municipal golf courses?
One city official explained there is currently a tiered system in place with the Roy Kizer course at the top and Hancock at the bottom of the tier. After the purchase, Grey Rock will become the top tier public course with the highest green fees.
The purchase was approved 6-to-1 with council member Morrison voting no. Grey Rock is the first golf course the city has purchased in 20 years. The last course it acquired was Roy Kizer, back in 1994.