Apr 042017

After years of protests, delays and lawsuits, City Park’s Bayou Oaks golf course is slated to open later this month (Claire Byun/cbyun@nolamessenger.com).

By Claire Byun

A brand new Mid-City golf course is just weeks from completion, and officials expect revenues to hit more than $1 million during the first year. Those profits, however, are planned for more charitable uses.

City Park’s newest championship golf course, called Bayou Oaks, opens to the public April 21. The $24 million course will be managed by the Bayou District Foundation, which oversees the North Course in the park as well.

Previously, Bayou District Foundation redeveloped the St. Bernard Public Housing Development to create Columbia Parc in 2010. The 53-acre site is now part of a Bayou District that includes an early education school, a planned K-8 public charter school and a college prep public high school two blocks away. J.T. Hannan, director of public and governmental affairs, said the district includes families from three income levels – low income, public income and market rate – which diversifies the housing complex.

The former St. Bernard housing complex was known for many years as a violent, drug-riddled area at the intersection of Gentilly, Lakeview and Mid-City. In the four years prior to Katrina, 44 homicides were reported, Hannan said. Much of the complex was flooded during the storm, leaving 134 dilapidated buildings in its wake.

After Katrina, developers considered a new mixed-income community that would provide opportunities for families who are often lost to poor education and crime. The effort was spearheaded by the Housing Authority of New Orleans, the Bayou District and Columbia Residential, a national mixed-income developer, with the assistance of Purpose Built Communities, an Atlanta nonprofit consulting firm.

The idea was based on the East Lake Foundation in Atlanta, where a similar housing complex project flourished. Gerry Barousse, chairman of Bayou District Foundation, said the organization wanted to find a way to provide for low-income families while becoming self-sustaining.

Enter City Park’s planned golf course.

Park officials had planned two golf courses after Katrina, when the former East and West courses were destroyed. The North Course, which incorporates some of the former courses, opened in 2009 but park officials hit a few roadblocks while developing the newest course. Protests, mostly from nature enthusiasts who were worried about the course’s footprint, interrupted Board of Directors meetings and filed a federal lawsuit against the park and FEMA.

The lawsuit came just days after a man protesting the course’s construction fell out of the tree he had been staying in and was taken away by ambulance. Park officials erected a temporary fence to prevent people from disturbing construction and threatened trespassers with legal action.

The Bayou District Foundation is slated to manage the new course, with most of the revenue going toward the foundation’s social programs (Claire Byun).

Now, more than two years later, the course is almost complete. Bob Becker, City Park CEO, said he hopes the public will eventually understand why the park needed a second golf course.

“We didn’t just build a course on a whim,” Becker said. “It was part of plan that addressed public needs, as well as addresses sustainability of the park.”

City Park is almost entirely self-funded. The city contributes a few thousand dollars a year to the public space, but everything else is funded through private donations, fundraising efforts or money-making elements of the park. The new course is meant to help pay for the rest of the park’s operations, Becker said.

“The gobs of money that will come off this course is going back into the community,” he said.

Bayou District Foundation will completely manage both golf courses for up to 35 years. Four percent of gross revenues from the park will go to the Foundation as a management fee, as well as reimbursement for employee costs and expenses, Becker said.

The Foundation, however, will be responsible for contributing three percent of the management fee to the capital reserve account, which will be used to maintain facilities and fund capital projects.

The rest of the course’s profit goes toward the foundation’s programs, including Columbia Parc. As of right now, most of Columbia Parc is sustained through foundation money, which is a costly burden on the organization. Barousse, foundation chairman, is confident the partnership with City Park changes that.

“We’re actually going to get to a place where we can make money for our programs, instead of just spending,” he said.

Columbia Parc includes 685 apartments and townhomes available to all income-levels, including a senior living facility and a nationally-recognized early learning facility called Educare. Educare, which services children up to age five, uses research-based, high-quality practices to help children develop the academic and social-emotional skills essential for success in school and life. The district’s facility is the only Educare in the four states surrounding Louisiana.

Hannan, director of public affairs for the Bayou District Foundation, took media members on a tour of the community Tuesday morning. He touted the education center’s success so far while explaining the need for a steady stream of revenue to keep the school afloat. The school serves 600 children –all Head Start eligible – and maintains a 3-to-1 student to teacher ratio.

The housing complex also offers residents a community garden, movie theater, two media centers, playground, pool, fitness center and interactive splash park. There are future plans for an outdoor kitchen and grocery store, so residents won’t have to travel far for their food.

“We really tried to make it a mix between the housing, education and recreational activities offered by the foundation,” Hannan said.

A thriving health center is situated on the edge of the community, and it services almost twice as many patients each week as the foundation budgeted. The golf course is offering a steady revenue stream for the foundation, which will allow officials to service more people in more programs, Hannan said.

Also partnering with City Park is The First Tee, a youth development organization introducing the game of golf to children. Through after school and summer programs, First Tee reinforces values such as integrity, respect and perseverance through the game of golf. Chip Patterson, executive director, said about 50 kids work through the program at City Park alone.

Bayou Oaks Foundation Chairman Gerry Barousse, left, discusses details of the new course with City Park CEO Bob Becker.

The program reaches more than 25,000 children each year through all of its activities, so an additional golf course just means more children will be able to participate, Patterson said. The opportunities for fundraising have also increased, since a bright new course could mean money-making events for the nonprofit.

“It’s big for us,” he said. “Since we lost Bayou Barriere Golf Club earlier this year, it’s nice to have another course come online.”

Columbia Parc is just a few blocks away from the new golf course’s third hole, which made it a “perfect partner” for City Park, Becker said. The fact that the community is thriving and improving the surrounding neighborhoods only makes it a stronger fit to partner with the enormous public park, he said.

“This park, everything in it – the golf courses, the neutral space, the walking paths – it’s for everyone,” Barousse said.

“It’s really something special.”

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