Politics could block Zurich Classic from moving to City Park

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wwltv.com

Posted on May 27, 2014 at 10:56 PM

Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
Email: mfarris@wwltv.com | Twitter: @megfarriswwl

NEW ORLEANS -- The PGA's tour's first tournament in New Orleans teed off in City Park in 1938 and was there for a quarter of a century.

Now some state lawmakers want to keep the event from returning there, saying it's an economic driver for the West Bank. But City Park leaders say that's holding up millions of dollars in progress.

Land in City Park on Wisner Boulevard sits empty and unmanicured. It's a far cry from the championship golf course planned now for years.

Last year the design was complete. FEMA finally agreed on $7 million in Hurricane Katrina loss funds. Another $6.6 million has been promised by the state since 2006.

But still the first bunker has not been dug.

"I think what's been somewhat frustrating to us is that we've had these pieces in place now for about six months. We understand that the state has financial issues and all that, but we're hoping that they will release our money," said Dr. Bob Becker, CEO of City Park.

The 'green' holding up building of the new greens comes to $3.3 million, money way down on the state budget priority list. And now an amendment making its way through the legislature aims to keep the future City Park course from hosting the Zurich Classic PGA tournament, as a condition to release the funding.

That tournament is now played on the West Bank in senate president John Alario's district. He told Eyewitness News he added the amendment after consulting with people at City Park.

"I'm fully supportive of the golf course being built there. Where we have a problem is that the state has invested over $20 million in the golf course on the West Bank. The event is a big economic boost for us. It helps fill our hotel rooms with guests for the tournament. Restaurants get filled. It's such a big event for us we would hate to lose it," said Senator Alario.

One source involved in this story, who did not want to be named, said City Park would like to have the golf tournament, but said it feels like their hands are tied up in politics and agreeing to the amendment is the only way to have the state release the funds.

The Jefferson Parish Council could vote to move the tournament to City Park.

Alario said his entire career he has supported many major developments and events in New Orleans.

"Each of the governing authorities has a right to protect the parishes that they represent. I have been supportive, my whole career, of all of the major things that have happened in New Orleans: Super Bowls, Final Fours, the Superdome itself, the Convention Center, City Park, the different improvements we made there. I've been a tremendous supporter of the D-Day Museum and everything that's happened in New Orleans. This one happens to be in Jefferson Parish and I think we got a right to try to protect that," Alario said.

Building the course and the new splash park would mean City Park would have some independence from state funds.

"It would generate operating income, which we desperately need, desperately need," Dr. Becker said.

The Zurich Classic golf tournament generates $40 million for the local economy, $22 million in media exposure, and it's broadcast in 224 countries and territories worldwide.

Kristy Nichols, commissioner of administration, released the following statement: "We always work with regional delegations on capital outlay requests and we will work with them to see if this project is a priority."

 

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