|By Rebeca Rodriguez, San Antonio Express-News|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 21, 2004 - Although plans for a world-class PGA Tour resort in North Bexar County could be in place within weeks, precious few details are known about the proposed golf development, even by local officials involved in the discussions.
"People think we know more than we do, and we really don't," County Judge Nelson Wolff said.
Wolff, Mayor Ed Garza and other local leaders are planning a trip to the PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., on Dec. 3 in an attempt to woo a luxury golf course, resort hotel, and commercial and residential development to San Antonio.
The trip comes six months after the PGA of America pulled out of negotiations to build a PGA Village on the same site -- owned by developer Lumbermen's Investment Corp. -- because of vocal opposition by a coalition of grass-roots organizations and problems securing financing for a resort hotel.
Sources familiar with the latest project, planned for the same site over the environmentally sensitive Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, say no deals have been formally struck.
But privately, many say they believe it could materialize quickly under the right conditions.
The question now is, what are those conditions?
"Everything to date has been conceptual," said Garza, who has attended meetings with PGA Tour representatives.
Some details have trickled out. The developers would like a non-annexation agreement extended to 25 years to avoid city taxes. In exchange, they have indicated they would be willing to reduce the amount of land covered by buildings and pavement to 15 percent.
There also is talk of Marriott International financing the hotel.
But most of those familiar with the dialogue have remained closemouthed about the project, saying everything is still up in the air.
Given the history of the PGA Village fiasco, the issue is likely to become a political flashpoint over the next few weeks.
"This failed the last time because of a lack of transparency in the decision-making process, and if it's going to happen it's got to be a process where all interested parties are able to voice their concern and support," said Larry Hufford, a political scientist at St. Mary's University Local leaders are eager to lay the groundwork well before the mayoral election in May.
The timing will depend largely on whether contracts that were in place for the first project can be amended or must be completely reworked to reflect dealings with the PGA Tour, a separate organization from the PGA of America.
So far, none of that is clear.
For activists seeking more transparency, the ghosts of PGA Village are waiting in the wings.
"Their strategy will be to do it real quickly and to stop us from organizing, but I think they're really underestimating the anger that people feel," said Amy Kastely, a legal adviser for community activists concerned about the original project.
Kastely said leaders involved in the negotiations are missing the boat by thinking that opponents of a PGA development are solely concerned with its environmental aspects.
"An equally huge issue is democracy and representative government and control by special interests seeking to make a lot of money," she said.
"Jamming it through is not a way to demonstrate their commitment to the community."
Garza said he and others have every intention of having inclusive talks about the project, once it gets beyond the abstract stage.
"There's not been any discussion with (opposition) groups, because there hasn't been anything to discuss," he said. "It's too early for that."
But Kastely said there is enough history with the failed PGA Village project to warrant more open discussions.
In particular, opponents have raised the issue of whether the city has the right to negotiate a non-annexation agreement with Lumbermen's.
There is also the question of how many and what type of jobs the new development might bring.
"Some of those issues will be relevant if they enter into a new agreement with PGA Tour," Kastely said.
Despite rumors that tour officials want to renegotiate the existing environmental agreement between the San Antonio Water System and Lumbermen's, PGA Tour spokesman Bob Combs said the organization is merely studying the complex agreement.
"We're simply trying to understand the opportunity in the most complete context possible, and that would include the environmental aspects of it," Combs said. "I don't think I would go beyond that."
The existing 3-inch thick agreement -- considered one of the strictest environmental plans in the country -- called for PGA of America to pay SAWS $100,000 each year for 10 years to help pay for monitoring and regulatory services.
It also required that SAWS be allowed to observe the construction process and that runoff from the Lumbermen's property exceed drinking water standards.
"That was extraordinary," said Eugene Habiger, former SAWS president and chief executive officer who oversaw the creation of the agreement. "I would like to see that agreement be transferred in its current form without any changes."
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