UT regents briefed behind closed doors on Muny, Brackenridge Tract

The agenda for a telephone meeting of the University of Texas System Board of Regents today included this intriguing item: “Discussion regarding legal issues related to the utilization of the Brackenridge Tract, including Lions Municipal Golf Course.”

Alas, the matter was discussed behind closed doors, with not a word mentioned or any action taken in the public portion of the meeting.

The National Register of Historic Places marker at Lions Municipal Golf Course in west Austin, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

The National Register of Historic Places marker at Lions Municipal Golf Course in west Austin, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Just before the meeting, I bumped into UT-Austin President Gregory L. Fenves, who was carrying a binder of paperwork for his presentation, but he didn’t take me up on my invitation to spill. Ditto for his posse of sorts, which consisted of Patti Ohlendorf, the university’s vice president for legal affairs, and Richard Suttle, a local development lawyer.

The future of the 141-acre golf course along Lake Austin Boulevard in West Austin is uncertain. The UT board voted in 2011 against renewing the city’s lease for the course, known as Muny, when it expires in 2019. That vote wasn’t surprising in light of a 2009 system-commissioned plan that said Muny and other portions of the university’s 350-acre Brackenridge Tract should be developed into a residential and commercial district with thousands of housing units as well as offices, shops, hotels, parks, trails and even a yoga pier.

But the calculus changed this summer when the National Park Service added Muny to the National Register of Historic Places, citing its distinction as one of the first, if not the very first, municipal golf courses in the former Confederate states to be desegregated.

I asked UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven where things stand.

“I’m part of the discussions, but President Fenves and UT-Austin lead the effort on this,” McRaven said. “He will take into consideration as he does with everything all of the issues that are out there on the historical designation. He will work with the city and he continues to work with the Board of Regents to make sure that they are well-informed. So I think the process is moving along nicely, actually.”

Mayor Steve Adler has called Muny “one of those pieces of property that we cannot lose.” No details of discussions between the city and the university have emerged publicly.

McRaven said Fenves “will work with the city in a way that is cooperative, that is respectful, recognizing that we have a mandate through Col. Brackenridge’s will to monetize the property for the good of the University of Texas.”

Actually, George Brackenridge, a regent and banker  who donated the tract in 1910, wanted it to become the main campus. That didn’t happen. Fenves has said that his goal is to “honor the civil rights history of the site while fulfilling our fiduciary obligations to the university and the state of Texas.”

Asked whether some sort of educational exhibit or museum, as advocated by some activists, is in the cards, McRaven replied: “You are not going to get that answer out of me. This is between the University of Texas and the city of Austin right now. We’ve got a lot of options, and I think the discussion between UT-Austin and the city has got to go on.”

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