Commission to look at Duluth Golf Courses

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Recognizing that the decision would be a heavy burden, Jim Filby Williams, Duluth's Director of Public Administration, stated that he did not wish to entrust this task to the shoulders of the commissioners without consulting them beforehand.

The commissioners responded with a resounding agreement that they should weigh in any possible sale of urban green spaces.

The Parks Commission reviewed and reviewed the findings of the Duluth Golf Citizens Advisory Committee on Wednesday night. Members of the public also expressed their views on the future of the city's two public golf courses at Lester and Enger parks.

The eight citizens who participated in a public comment period all spoke out against a possible sale of the Lester Park golf course.

Developer Tom Sunnarborg offered to purchase the course and use the last nine holes – approximately 75 acres – to build a residential and hotel complex. He proposes to exploit the remaining 18 holes as a private golf course that would remain accessible to the general public.

If such an agreement is approved, the city, in turn, will use the proceeds of the sale to finance the necessary improvements to the Enger Park Golf Course, including a new clubhouse and an irrigation system. .

Rich Staffon, president of Duluth Branch of the Izaak Walton League, said his organization was dedicated to "the defense of our soil, our air, our wood, our water and our wildlife."

"Much of this is about protecting and safeguarding our public lands and green spaces," he said.

Although Duluth's public golf courses continued to operate at a loss, with a debt of $ 2.4 million, Staffon said they remained an important recreational resource.

"Keeping this area undeveloped also helps protect the watershed and the water quality of the Lester River. We recently learned this lesson from the problems that developed on Amity Creek, a major tributary of the Lester River, due to its development. These soils in this region are very sensitive, "he warned.

"Once this public green space is gone, it is gone for good.We encourage the city to do a very thorough investigation before considering a sale to a private developer.It is people's land." You are the stewards of this land, and We are counting on you to treat this land with care and think seriously about its use, "Staffon told Duluth City Council members at their Monday meeting, where he also testified.

Tim McEvoy, a local golfer, said, "I do not understand how a city sells its park." He suggested that the city plans to increase its golf fees instead of making the courses stand alone.

Filby Williams noted that a poll of local golfers was not encouraging in this regard.

"Personally, I do not think we should invest too much in these results, but for the sake of it, they expressed a rather strong feeling that people are not willing to pay much more," he said. declared.

Tim Lee – a member of Golf Citizen Advisory and Vice President of the Friends of Duluth Golf – agreed that the survey results clearly said so. But he said: "That goes against my personal experience … and I think it goes against most of the public comments I've heard on Monday night." , referring to a testimony at the town council meeting held earlier this week.

Dennis Isernhagen, Commissioner of Parks and a member of the Golf Advisory Committee, told councilors that the city had taken a strange approach to managing its public golf program that seemed to be leading to failure.

"The city has insisted that golf courses must operate like a private company, they have to weigh in. I support this position, but if you want to run a business, you have to operate like a business." " he said.

"In recent years, the city administration has presented a running budget that is losing money.No successful business would develop a budget that will lose money. a fee would have had a very positive impact on the budget, "Isernhagen said, noting that the city had also done little to market its courses.

Dan Baumgartner also criticized the city for its management, saying: "I do not think the city has made a good faith effort to make the courses successful."

Filby Williams suggested that the financial problems of municipal lands came mainly from an oversized golf landscape, with 72 new golf holes put online for a distance of 30 miles between 1984 and 2003, not to mention that Duluth added 18 holes in his own inventory in 1989.

The municipal administration will use the findings of the advisory committee to develop a recommendation. This recommendation could be made jointly with members of the Friends of Duluth Golf Club, if municipal staff and golf advocates can agree.

Otherwise, Filby Williams said the Parks Commission and City Council may have to choose between competing plans. Given their differences, he said that this last scenario is a very real possibility.

"Forcing a consensus where it could not be could lead to unintended negative consequences, so we have foreseen this possibility from the beginning," he said.

Filby Williams said he wanted to ask the Parks Commission and City Council in the next two to three months.