DULUTH — The city is looking for a developer to turn 37 acres of the former Lester Park Golf Course, filled with "spectacular scenery, rich history and impressive views" into a mixed-income residential area. Again.

The current request for proposals calls for a developer to lead the build-out on a residential community with both affordable and market rate housing options, which have been in short supply for years. The land is currently owned by the Duluth Economic Development Authority.

The request is similar to one from 2019, though then it included 50 acres of Lester Park, once a lush 27-hole, 260-acre course with views of Lake Superior.

Housing continues to be a priority, Mayor Emily Larson said in a news release.

"Lester is an incredible opportunity for a transformative development of housing for families and seniors while also preserving the adjacent hundreds of acres of open green space for all residents."

The golf course on Duluth's east side of town didn't open at the start of the 2020 season — and hasn't since. At the time, the city had a significant budget shortfall because of COVID-19, and two municipal courses that had been losing money for decades and were in need of expensive upgrades.

Both courses were recognized by Golf Digest as being among the top 100 public courses in the country in the early 2000s — then interest in the sport dropped. A mayor-appointed citizen review group found that there had been a 44% drop in rounds-played between 2000-2018 in Duluth.

In October 2019, in an effort to address the housing crisis, the city posted a request for proposals to develop a 50-acre plot on Lester Park Golf Course and 10 acres of Enger Park Golf Course's driving range. Money made in the real estate sales would be redirected back to the renovation of Enger Park.

No developments hatched.

The city considered reopening Lester Park Golf Course in 2024, while Enger Park's irrigation system gets needed improvements — but it was determined to be a "well-intentioned plan that is just not viable," City Councilor Roz Randorf said at a mid-June meeting. Rather, the city will keep 18 holes open at Enger during its $5.3 million improvement project.

Mayoral candidate Roger Reinert said reopening the course has been a popular issue brought up by residents, but he's also heard from folks who want to preserve some of the land for green space.

"We can't have this be a drag on the city budget," he said, but there are ideas to explore with pandemic-related changes in residents' outdoor interests, including increased green fees, a year-round enterprise like Top Golf or a nonprofit model.

City Councilor Arik Forsman said at a recent meeting that he wouldn't rule out a nonprofit or private company operating a golf course at Lester Park, but it's no longer something the city can afford.

"Hopefully there will be golf there in the future," he said. "I just don't think it'll be under the city of Duluth flag."

Reinert questions the rapid timeline involved in the city's request for developer proposals, with the November election looming.

"We've definitely been out there talking about different possibilities for Lester," he said, such as keeping 18 holes for golf, some land for public use and adding housing. "It struck me as a pretty quick timeline for such a major proposal that clearly has community interest."

Staff writer Jana Hollingsworth contributed to this story.