San Antonio's 'Village' idiots blow shot at PGA Resort

By Brent Kelley, Contributor

SAN ANTONIO - It takes a village to raise a ruckus.

A PGA Village, to be exact, at least in this Central Texas getaway that has - make that had - a reputation as a growing golf destination.

Following three years of contentious courtship and plenty of protests - three years with more twists and turns than a John Daly marriage counseling session - the PGA of America announced in June that it was withdrawing from an agreement with a developer and the City of San Antonio for the construction of a "PGA Village" in San Antonio.

The multi-course resort would have been the second PGA Village built by the PGA of America (the first is in Florida).

The PGA still plans to build a second PGA Village, just not in San Antonio. Phoenix and Las Vegas are rumored to be the most likely landing spots for the resort.

So what went wrong in San Antonio? It might be easier to list what did not go wrong:

• Godzilla did not emerge from San Antonio Bay, swim up the San Antonio River, and destroy the Alamo City.

Um, that's about it for that list.

Just about everything else around the project was botched, and by all sides.

Plans to bring PGA Village to San Antonio were originally announced in February, 2001. Architects associated with the two courses were rumored to be Pete Dye and Tom Fazio; the names of Jack Nicklaus and Robert Trent Jones Jr. were bandied about for possible future expansions. Marriott was the hotel chain with which the developer, Lumbermen's Inc., was negotiating.

The project would bring hundreds of temporary jobs and around 800 permanent jobs to San Antonio, untold numbers of resort golfers spending money in the local economy, and, likely, plenty of national attention for what might have become one of the top golf resorts in the U.S.

What's not to like? Plenty, opponents cried loud and long. When the PGA announced its withdrawal from San Antonio, PGA of America President Jim Awtrey released a statement citing, among other problems, the "churning political situation" in San Antonio.

That was a reference to the number of opposition groups - some pre-existing, others formed just for this fight - that mobilized to fight the project. And to the appalling lack of public support for the project from the city's "leaders."

One problem for proponents was that opponents weren't uniform in their reasons for objecting to the project. Groups with names like "Save Our Aquifer" and "Smart Growth Coalition" opposed PGA Village for sometimes disparate reasons that included:

• The resort would be built over the Edwards Aquifer, the sole source of drinking water for what is one of the 10 largest cities in the U.S.;

• The city was giving the developer what the opposition considered undeserved tax breaks;

• The jobs created by the project were mostly low-wage;

• It was just another boon to the Northside; San Antonio's depressed Southside was getting the shaft again.

Most of these points should have been easy to counter. Cities often woo major companies and major projects with tax abatements, but regardless, the resort would have been paying millions of dollars annually in taxes to local school districts (and eventually would begin paying city taxes). A guarantee of a "living wage" for resort workers was negotiated into the agreement between the developer and city; regardless, 800 jobs, no matter the pay, are better than zero jobs.

Environmental concerns emerged as the strongest point of opposition. But even there the opposition was misguided. Lumbermen's ownership of the property predated environmental regulations passed to protect the aquifer - grandfathering rights meant the developer was under no obligation to follow current environmental regulations.

In fact, it was only the city's willingness to grant tax relief to the project that allowed it to negotiate into the deal much stricter environmental controls than even current city regulations require.

The fact that neither the city, the developer, PGA of America, nor local supporters could ever get that fact heard over the din of protests may be what ultimately doomed the project.

It's clear that most San Antonians still don't understand that, without the negotiated environmental controls that would have accompanied a PGA Village, the developer can now do whatever it wants with the property. This was made clear by a headline in the San Antonio Express-News a day after the PGA announced its withdrawal:

PGA site raises news worries Housing on the area raises environmental concerns

Doh! How many opponents woke up to that headline wishing they had paid more attention to what was actually in the deal?

It's all moot now. While Lumbermen's considers what to build on its property now, and the City of San Antonio begs PGA to keep it in mind for future projects (yeah, right), the PGA of America walks into the open arms of Phoenix and Las Vegas, ready to be wooed by cities whose leaders and citizens understand the value of golf travel.

PGA Village in San Antonio is dead. All the city has left is it large contingent of village idiots.

Brent Kelley, Contributor

Brent Kelley covers Texas, the Gulf Coast Region (Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and West Florida) and Florida.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Excuse Please

    Bob wrote on: Jun 21, 2009

    Hey, Brent, what gives you the right to call us "village idiots" just because the tax-paying citizens of this city don't want your PGA Village here?
    Poor tone. I'm frankly glad the PGA village didn't get built. I think your perspective is arrogant and self-centered. You come and go with your clubs and your handicaps. We're the ones who have to stay behind and drink the water.
    Truly, truly arrogant, you are!