Boosters see bright future for run-down Lester-Amity Chalet
The musty smell is noticeable instantly. The dirty Plexiglas windows face a grid of bars that effectively block any sort of view. But that's just the beginning. "The building needs everything," MaryBeth Nevers said. "It needs new furnaces. The we...
The musty smell is noticeable instantly. The dirty Plexiglas windows face a grid of bars that effectively block any sort of view.
But that’s just the beginning.
“The building needs everything,” MaryBeth Nevers said. “It needs new furnaces. The well needs to have a new immersible pump. It needs electrical upgrades. The bathrooms need work. The exterior needs painting. And down the line we’re going to need a new roof.”
But Nevers and other members of a group that calls itself the Friends of Lester-Amity Chalet, or FLAC, envision a glorious future for the 3,200-square-foot, white cinder block building carved into the wooded hills along Seven Bridges Road.
The group is hosting an open house at the site this weekend, to call attention to their vision.
It will be a stopping point for mountain bikers and a warming house for cross-country skiers, they suggest. A hillside trail for cross-country ski races will finish in front of a deck added to the chalet. The races will conclude in an area that not long ago was one of two hockey rinks. Expanded parking will fill the site of the second old rink.
Chilled skiers will gather around the gas fireplace, drinking hot beverages from the concession stand. A kiosk will sell ski equipment. Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, a couple of miles up the road, will have an office in the building.
That’s the plan, and group members are optimistic that some of it can be fulfilled in time for this winter’s ski season.
“We’d love to be able to hold a ski camp here over Christmas, between Christmas and New Year’s,” Nevers said.
The group is collaborating with the city of Duluth, which at one time planned to tear down the building, Nevers said.
Although the city is now on board with the revitalization project, the effort still is driven by neighborhood residents and outdoor enthusiasts, said FLAC member Jon Tofte.
Tofte, 65, was growing up in the neighborhood in 1960 when a neighborhood group that called itself Lakeview Winter Sports Inc. broke ground on the building. It opened in 1963 as the Lakeview Chalet.
The effort was spearheaded by local barber Fred Anderson, Tofte said, and “others who just wanted to do something for the kids. I was one of those kids.”
At various times, the immediate area was the place for alpine skiing, ski jumps and tubing. Most recently, the chalet served the hockey rinks. But it was shuttered and the hockey ended about five years ago, Nevers said.
“We’re trying to have it be for everybody, because for so long it’s just been for hockey,” she said. “And it’s not going to be that way anymore.”
The project started last year, originally spearheaded by Tofte’s daughter, Alena Tofte, now a graduate student at Dartmouth. She developed a rendition of what the building could look like. Architect David Salmela drew up plans for design improvements.
Since FLAC hasn’t officially formed as a nonprofit, it’s acting with the Duluth XC Ski Club as its agent.
The group hopes to raise $200,000, although it can open the building this winter for considerably less, Nevers said. Although the effort is in its early stages, it appears a grant will help with the furnaces, and businesses have shown interest in helping.
There’s a chance a corporation will even pay for naming rights for the chalet, Tofte said.
Cindi Butcher, who lives close to Congdon Park Elementary School, rode her bicycle up the hill to check out the open house.
“I’m a cross-country skier, but I’m a biker, too, and a hiker,” she said. “This will be great for everything.”
She’s confident the vision will become reality, Butcher said.
“I believe there’s enough support from the outdoor enthusiasts,” she said. “That’s why we live in Duluth.”
If you go
What: Lester-Amity Chalet open house
When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today (Sunday)
Where: 2940 Seven Bridges Road
Details: Free coffee provided by the Amity coffee shop. Food for sale from the Chow Haul food truck.