Two recent articles in the DNT with connections to Duluth parks reminds us of the long-term issues relating to properly managing park land within the city.
Jane Hovland’s opinion (“Local View: Lack of stewardship is robbing Duluthians of our views,” Sept. 30) spoke of the need to maintain the views along Skyline Parkway, which was developed as Duluth’s number one tourist attraction in the early twentieth century.
The second article, on Sept 14, reports the Planning Commission approving the use of 37 acres of the Lester Park land for much needed housing development.
Both articles relate to Duluth’s ownership of extensive park land and the need to do a good job of maintaining them. Skyline Drive needs viewshed maintenance. The Lester Park Golf Course needed a commitment to be properly maintained and operated. Finding the necessary funds is a tough challenge for the city.
For almost a century, golf at Lester has been a big part of life for many Duluth residents. Their disappointment with the current plan is loud and clear. Recreational golf is surging again world-wide. Nemadji in Superior is in wonderful condition and flourishing. Duluth’s two private courses are near membership capacity with more play than ever. Lester Park Golf Course is an asset with value and everything possible should be done to preserve that asset.
Now agreeing to offer thirty-seven acres of park land in hopes of creating some new housing probably seems like a step in the right direction from both a park and housing standpoint. Should not the same thinking prevail regarding what should be done with the remaining two-hundred forty acres? Should the administration simply continue to hold it as park land without a specific high value plan in place? Probably not, based on the total amount of park land now requiring city attention and maintenance!
A few years ago, when the public golf funding issue became apparent, the city had received a proposal from a developer willing to buy the entire 280-acre site, renovate and rebuild the golf facilities, create new housing, add some commercial development, and continue to offer public golf. The administration response was to not consider selling any park land. Soon thereafter that decision was changed with the city willing to sell 50 acres of the property for housing. Probably because of scale, those efforts to find a developer were not successful.
If the administration were to offer the entire 280-acre site, that would create some attention! A developer’s proposal could be required to include renovating and operating 18 holes of public golf and creating a minimum number of housing units suitable for the Duluth market. Projects including housing around public golf courses have a good record of success. We might be very surprised at the amount of interest that kind of an RFP would create.
The administration has already moved ahead with the decision to sell park land and make it available for housing development. Let’s expand that thinking to include a much larger development site and at the same time preserve the value of the Lester Golf Course. That would be a big win for housing in the city and for public course golfers in Duluth.
Frank Holappa is a life-long Duluthian and retired broker investor.