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Duluth halts plans to redevelop Enger Park driving range into housing

Golf planners rethink idea of selling the property due to the unexpectedly high cost of replacing it.

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Daral Lange hits a golf ball at Enger Park Golf Course’s driving range Wednesday, June 30, 2021, in Duluth. The city has shelved plans to develop housing on the 10-acre driving range. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

The city of Duluth has cooled to the idea of bringing a housing development to the Enger Park Golf Course driving range property.

At a meeting to discuss planned improvements to the course Tuesday night, Project Coordinator Todd Armbruster advised attendees: "The city is pausing work on the residential development that was envisioned for the current driving range at Enger Park because of the steep cost to construct and accommodate a replacement driving range. The plans for residential development at Enger haven't been formally and finally canceled, but we'll be focusing exclusively tonight on options that renovate Enger Park Golf Course in the existing location, with the driving range in its current location."

Consortium Minnesota Consulting Group LLC had obtained the exclusive right to develop plans for the 10-acre parcel, after the city issued a request for proposals earlier this year, and the recent change in plans is no reflection on the quality of their work, according to Jim Filby Williams, city director of parks, properties and public libraries.

"We were and are very pleased with the work of Consortium Development and their creative thinking and proactive, energetic and inclusive public outreach. And even if this particular project does not work out, we will look forward to the possibility that they might wish to engage in other projects here in Duluth, and we'll be looking for potential opportunities for them to do that," he said.

Keith Baker, Consortium Minnesota's CEO and founder, could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon, but previously told the News Tribune that he had hoped to bring forward a project on the driving range property that would be "responsive to a wide range of income levels."

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SEE ALSO: Firm looks to build housing on Duluth municipal golf course property City staff aim to bring mixed-income housing to the site.
Filby Williams explained that the anticipated $1.2 million cost of reconfiguring the existing golf course to accommodate a new driving range proved to be much higher than originally estimated "to an extent that is probably but not certainly prohibitive."

The city had projected the sale of the existing driving range property would generate about $400,000 — a sum that likely wouldn't begin to offset the added expense of moving it.

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(Gary Meader / gmeader@duluthnews.com)

As to the necessity of pairing the golf course with a driving range, Filby Williams said that "financially and recreationally, having a good practice area, inclusive of, but not necessarily limited to, a driving range, really is mission-critical."

Besides being expensive, relocating the driving range likely would have resulted in a new design, with one of the nine-hole options for play failing to begin and end at the clubhouse.

"So you'd have this isolated endpoint that's not necessarily prohibitive in and of itself, but it is contrary to the purpose of this project for golf, which was to contribute to the future success of golf, not to undermine its future success at a time when we're making hard decisions to downsize the number of public golf holes in Duluth," Filby Williams said.

The city of Duluth has paused operations at its other municipal course, Lester Park, after a series of financial losses. That course will remain closed until 2023, when it is slated to reopen as an 18-hole course with a driving range for one year, as Enger undergoes a major renovation expected to cost about $4 million.

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Lester Park Golf Course is expected to operate for just one year, after which time it will be permanently closed , enabling the city to focus on returning the remaining single 27-hole course at Enger Park to profitability.

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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