Duluth council to receive golf course findings Monday
The long-awaited findings of a citizens' advisory committee will be presented to the Duluth City Council at 6 p.m. Monday, and the report could have big repercussions for the future of Duluth's two public golf courses.
The findings will inform the council's discussion about what to do with the city golf courses, which continue to operate in the red. Last year, the Lester Park and Enger Park golf courses enjoyed one of their more financially successful seasons in recent years, yet together they lost more than $76,000, adding to an accrued debt that now tops $2.4 million
Among other things, the report is expected to explore the state of the golf courses and examine possible improvements that could make them more successful and sustainable.
The committee — composed of public golf advocates, city councilors, city staff and park and recreation commissioners — has struggled to reach agreement on the best path forward for the golf courses. The group has been meeting for more than a year now. Initially, the committee was expected to report back to the City Council by summer's end, but that date repeatedly has been pushed back to allow more time for discussion.
It remains unclear if the committee will be able to reach any sort of consensus on a shared set of recommendations for the future of public golf in Duluth, but the committee is expected to deliver a summary of agreed-upon facts and points.
The group's work has included surveys of golfers and non-golfers, as well as financial modeling for different types of future operating scenarios.
The committee also hired consultants to take a hard look at needed improvements to clubhouses, irrigation and other faltering essential infrastructure.
The findings are expected to examine potential funding sources, too.
A range of options remain on the table, including a possible sale of some golf course properties.
A would-be developer, Tom Sunnarborg, publicly has expressed interest in purchasing the 27-hole Lester Park Golf Course and downsizing it to make room for housing and a hotel.
If his bid proves successful, Sunnarborg said he aims to continue to operate an 18-hole private course, accessible to the general public.
But Sunnarborg would like to redevelop the back nine holes of the 260- acre property, perhaps building about a 120-room hotel surrounded by a mix of housing, including multi-family apartment buildings or condos, townhouses and single-family homes.
Sunnarborg is a Duluth native, who now lives in Florida. He has been involved in a number of high-profile developments around the nation involving hotels, housing and golf courses.
His prospective project at the Lester Park Golf Course likely faces a challenging path however, especially if the city-owned property is treated the same as a public park. State law requires that any sale of park property be approved by a super-majority of the Duluth City Council — meaning that he would need to win the support of at least eight of the city's nine councilors to seal a deal.
How to comment on the findings
While the findings of the Golf Citizen Advisory Committee will be presented to city councilors during a committee-of-the-whole meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, there will be no opportunity for public comment on the report at that time. Interested parties will be allowed to address the council toward the beginning of Monday's 7 p.m. meeting during a public comment period.
Public testimony also will be taken when the Parks Commission meets at 5 p.m. Wednesday in council chambers.
The city plans to post a copy of the committee's findings and a video of the city council presentation on its website — www.duluthmn.gov — following Monday's meeting.