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Firm looks to build housing on Duluth municipal golf course property

City staff aim to bring mixed-income housing to the site.

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Ron Berkeland of Duluth practices his drives at the Enger Park Golf Course driving range Wednesday afternoon. “I come here at least two or three times a week,” he said. The Duluth City Council is expected to hire a consultant Monday to develop a proposal to build housing on the driving range site. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
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The Duluth City Council may grant a developer exclusive rights to assemble a proposal to build housing on about 10 acres of land that's now home to the Enger Park Golf Course driving range.

On Monday, councilors will take up a resolution providing Consortium Minnesota Consulting Group LLC with the sole right to develop plans for the city-owned property up until Jan. 20, 2022.

The city staff-recommended firm was one of four would-be developers that responded to a request for proposals issued in January. The original deadline for developers to submit proposals had been March 16, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting closure of Duluth City Hall, the timeline was extended to May 6.

"This developer had some great experience doing affordable housing. So that was something that stood out," said Adam Fulton, deputy director of Duluth's planning and development division.

While Fulton said city staff don't foresee the site being dedicated purely to affordable housing, he said, "A mixed-income development would be highly appropriate. So, we would hope for a proposal that has a diversity of unit types and price points."

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"First, we want to get an understanding of the city, the community and various stakeholders. Then, from there we want to be able to build a vision moving forward," said Keith Baker, CEO and founder of Consortium Minnesota Consulting Group LLC. Although now based in St. Paul, Baker grew up in Duluth and is a 1978 graduate of Duluth Central.

He described hoping to bring forward a project that will be "responsive to a wide range of income levels."

Fulton said city staff are optimistic a "fairly aspirational" site plan will emerge.

"We want to highlight our recreational amenities," he said, noting the site's proximity not only to the golf course but to Enger Park, the Duluth Traverse and the Superior Hiking Trail.

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(Gary Meader / gmeader@duluthnews.com)

"This is a really incredible site. It's got beautiful views of the bay, the lake and the bluffs to the west. So, in this type of location, we believe there is the opportunity for some redevelopment," Fulton said.

If city councilors sign off on the resolution headed their way on Monday, Fulton said he expects Consortium Minnesota would work with city staff and community members to come up with a mutually acceptable development proposal that could serve as the foundation of a formal development agreement.

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Fulton noted that Duluth's comprehensive plan would allow for the property, which is currently zoned for R-1, low-density housing, to be rezoned R-2, allowing for higher-density housing.

The city also issued a concurrent request for proposals for about 50 acres of land at Duluth's only other municipal golf course, Lester Park. Three interested developers responded, but Fulton said those are still under consideration.

Because of the larger scale, Fulton said any future development on the lower side of Lester Golf Course would likely need to proceed in phases, making for a more complicated development plan.

Lester Park Golf Course has remained closed this season due to the pandemic and the financial hardships that have befallen the city as a result.

Whether the Lester Park course will reopen next year remains unclear, according to Jim Filby Williams, director of Duluth's parks, properties and libraries.

"If you were to ask me about the city's capacity to open any given park asset in 2021 or 2022 or 2023 at this historical moment, it would be very difficult for me to make credible, unqualified commitments. We're in a uniquely uncertain and difficult moment," he said.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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