‘Déjà vu’ as Austin City Council approves major Red River Street realignment to make way for new UT arena, potentially preserve Lions Municipal Golf Course

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Red River Street will revert back to its pre-1974 alignment, by shifting east between 12th and 15th streets, and shifting west between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and 32nd Street, to make room for a new University of Texas special events arena.

Red River Street would run through what is now Robert Dedman Drive and Medical Arts Street and become a straight-line corridor, just west of IH-35, from the southern tip of North Austin through downtown following City Council’s Feb. 7 approval.

The road was initially shifted in 1974, in part, to make room for the Frank Erwin Center. The Erwin Center will be replaced by a new $338 million arena just south of the Mike A. Myers Stadium and Soccer Field, for which the city is once again realigning Red River Street, back to its original configuration. Construction is expected to begin in August, according to city documents.

Although remotely, the project has—just as it had in 1974—been tied to the potential preservation of the Lions Municipal Golf Course, known as “Muny,” in West Austin, a historic course operated by the city and owned by the university.

Original direction from city staff said if Austin pays for any part of the design or reconstruction of Red River Street, the university would credit the amount toward the city’s “possible purchase of Lions Municipal Golf Course” or to other agreed upon projects. On Thursday, City Council members voted to amend that language to emphasize that although a possible golf course purchase has been a decades-long pursuit of City Council, there are “potentially other projects that could benefit from credit received as a result” of the project.

‘Déjà vu all over again’

The fate of the 141-acre golf course, listed on the National Register of Historic Places as one of the first desegregated golf courses in the South, has been up in the air for years.

The course was built by the Lions Club on University of Texas property in 1928 and began serving the public in 1934, according to city documents. In the early 1970s, the university’s board of regents, which had been leasing the course to the city, threatened to cancel a lease that was good up to 1987 in order to sell the property to pay for a potential campus expansion, said Mary Arnold, who chaired the Save Muny organization that fought to preserve the course for public use in the 1970s.

The city and board of regents eventually came to an agreement to save the course that, among other things, included Austin paying construction costs for the relocation of Red River Street between 19th and 38th streets, a project UT regent Frank C. Erwin Jr. called “urgent” as the university was preparing to build a 17,000 capacity special events arena in the area, according to news reports at the time.

Fast forward 45 years, the fate of Muny is once again up in the air, as the university has floated plans to end its relationship with the city and develop the tract while the city is trying to save it. UT is also once again building a new special events arena, needs Red River Street realigned to accommodate the project and has said any financial assistance from the city could go toward credit in the city’s potential purchase of the golf course.

At this moment, the city has not agreed to pay for any of the project, according to a spokesperson from Austin Transportation. However, in the same meeting, the city and the university agreed to extend the lease on Lions Municipal Golf Course to May 25, 2020.

“It’s déjà vu all over again,” Arnold said to City Council Thursday. “Sorry this has had to happen again.”

The below map marks the site of Lions Municipal Golf Course and the site for the new University of Texas arena. The red line refers to the current alignment of Red River Street and the green line marks where the new alignment would run. 

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Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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