Groups question ‘highest and best use’ of City Park ahead of master plan

A decade ago, a group of residents launched a petition to eliminate the nine-hole City Park golf course and use the additional room to create a true “central park” for Baton Rouge—and the debate grew testy.

Jenni Peters, owner of Varsity Sports, gave a media interview in support of the change, which she says spurred a neighbor of the park to launch a boycott of her business. As BREC, the parish’s parks agency, seeks input for its next master plan, Peters is part of a group (which also includes Business Report founder Rolfe McCollister) that is once again asking residents to think about potential changes they would like to see.

“What is the potential for City Park?” she told the Baton Rouge Press Club this week. “What is the highest and best use?”

Peters doesn’t think golf is the best use, at least not for the whole site, and she believes public support may be moving in her direction. Though she suggests retaining a three-hole “pitch and putt” course as a compromise, elements she would like to see considered include a boat dock, a coffee shop and a botanical garden.

The course remains popular with many local golfers, hosting 23,262 rounds in 2022, or about 46% more than in 2014, BREC says. And while public golf courses often lose money, last year, the City Park course took in almost $40,000 more than it cost to operate, parks officials say.

Prominent golf course architect Tom Bendelow designed the course in 1926, and it’s among the oldest public courses in the nation, according to Friends of City Park Baton Rouge, which supports preserving the course. The rail line that bisects the park complicates potential changes, the group says.

“No one knows the economic costs of making the park safe along the railroad grade (site preparation and remediation, fencing, signage, warning signals, etc.), and no one knows the return on investment in such a scheme,” the group’s website states.

This story originally appeared in a Sept. 11 issue of Daily Report. To keep up with Baton Rouge business and politics, subscribe to the free Daily Report e-newsletter here.