Public Notice: Conserve What?

Dueling Hancock Conservancies have different priorities

Public Notice: Conserve What?

Poor little Hancock Golf Course had survived over 120 years – cut in half in the Six­ties to make way for a shopping mall, but now listed in the Nation­al Register of Historic Places; half golf course and half public trail and de facto park – and it survived all that time without any public conservancy to protect it. And now, in the space of a few months, it has two! Only they can't agree on what it is they want to conserve.

The Hancock Conservancy and the Han­cock Golf Course Con­serv­ancy were both founded by concerned neighbors – concerned in this case about a Parks and Recreation Depart­ment plan to redevelop the course, which has been a longtime money loser. This has been going on since at least 2011, but as the city budget has continued to tighten, PARD has seemed more intent on finding a solution to its money drain. They bruited about three proposed options at a public meeting last February, but the general perception was that they want to find a private partner to redevelop the course and put in the investment needed to turn a profit: perhaps installing an academy and/or a driving range, and likely curtailing the informal park usage that's prevailed on the grounds for decades.

So, predictably, people hated that idea. And, just as predictably, people couldn't agree on precisely what they hated about that idea or what they'd like instead – with sentiment closely split between those who wanted to keep the historic golf course (oldest west of the Mississippi, Harvey Penick's first course, etc.), and those who want purely a park (green space open to the public; nuff said). So when PARD revived the discussion recently after a pandemic pause, both factions upped their game.

The HC came first, announcing just after PARD restarted the process in October that they were going to fundraise and lobby to "transform Han­cock Golf Course into a green space and public park." The pro-golf HGCC formed more recently to defend the historic status quo; their goal is "simply making up [PARD's] deficit by way of private donations, allowing for the existing and beloved Han­cock Golf Course to remain." And that might be easy, they say, because golf operations at Han­cock have actually flourished during the pandemic: PARD shows usage and revenue just about doubling from 2019 to 2020; if the fourth quarter stats were projected over a year, says HGCC, Hancock would be making $100,000 a year instead of its traditional deficit, and we wouldn't even be having this discussion.

Both conservancies currently have petitions up, with over 2,000 signers each; both are pledging to do the fundraising needed to make their vision happen; and both sides' supporters have been kinda testy about the matter online. But when HC held the first of two town halls on the matter on Tuesday, with HGCC's Mike Wong offering the counter perspective, the tone was refreshingly civil and positive throughout. The underlying question of golf or no golf remains unsettled, but for one evening at least, the focus was largely on the mutual goals on which both sides, and a majority of neighbors and citizens, could agree: no driving range; preservation of the natural space; improvements to Waller Creek; among other things. It's a start, maybe.


HC’s second meeting is this coming Tues­day, Feb. 16, at 7pm, with PARD Assistant Director Anthony Segura; they ask people to come prepared to ask questions. See www.imaginehancockpark.org. (HGCC is at www.hancockgolfcourseconservancy.org.)

Send gossip, dirt, innuendo, rumors, and other useful grist to nbarbaro@austinchronicle.com.

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