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Lester golf a go for 2019; city postpones release of municipal golf report

Sand traps surround a green on the Lake Nine at the Lester Park Golf Course in Duluth. (2017 file / News Tribune)

Duluth's two municipal golf courses will be open for business as usual in 2019.

Despite questions about the long-term financial viability of the courses, which have accrued upward of $2.2 million in debt over time, Jim Filby Williams, Duluth's director of public administration, told city councilors Thursday that the city expects to maintain their status quo operation next year.

However, he said that a comprehensive golf report the council had expected to receive Dec. 17 will be delayed until early next year. That document was expected to explore the long-term sustainability of the courses at Lester Park and Enger Park.

Filby Williams said the city has budgeted for both 27-hole courses to operate next year "with modest fee increases that the golf organization has actually recommended itself."

At Large Councilor Zack Filipovich and 2nd District Councilor Joel Sipress both expressed frustration about the delay in receiving information on the 2018 performance of the municipal courses.

"While it's true that the golf presentation that we have received annually for the past several years has talked about long-term challenges and long-term visions, it has also been an opportunity for this council to receive annual updates on the financial performance of the golf courses and to receive some information about any changes in policy or plans or projections for ... the upcoming year," Sipress said.

"The issue of the future of our golf courses is one of great public concern, and I think it's very unfortunate that at a time when we are receiving a lot of inquiries from the public regarding the golf courses, that we are not in a position to have that information that will allow us to engage in meaningful discussion with our constituents about the current status of the golf courses," he said.

At the very least, Sipress requested that city administration provide the council with a financial snapshot of how the municipal golf courses finished the year.

Filby Williams said he will work to get that information to the council soon.

For about the past year now, a citizens' advisory committee has been studying Duluth's golf courses and examining the impact of different potential options, including a possible downsizing or even a closure of the Lester Park operation. The group had been expected to share its findings with the council in a couple weeks.

Sipress said: "I do understand the reasons why the Dec. 17 presentation has been canceled. From what I understand of how that process has been going, I think it's a good thing it has been canceled. I've been in communication with members of the golfing community, and I've been in communication with a member of that committee, and I've received a lot of dissatisfaction and a lot of concern about the way that process has gone.

"So my expectation is that when we receive that report, it is going to reflect the results of a truly collaborative and inclusive process that is driven by the full committee membership, that reflects an open, thorough and fair evaluation of all possible scenarios. And if that is the reason for the delay — to make sure that is what this council receives — then it's a delay that's definitely worth it," he said.

Filby Williams responded: "In regard to our intentions with this report, they are, as ever, to be strictly impartial, to be inclusive, to have all voices heard, and indeed very specifically the reason for this delay is because there is not sufficient time for those hard-working volunteers to receive, thoroughly consider, provide suggested revisions to and then finally approve this collection of findings."

As for the citizens' advisory group, Filby Williams said the city's intent is to have its members "not to come to consensus on recommendations but to work exceedingly hard to come to consensus on the findings we present to you — a consensus that they are fundamentally sound."

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