Mayor Ness Wants Alcohol Sales In Lakeside, Lester Park

Lester Golf Course Could Benefit

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Duluth Mayor Don Ness has unveiled his plan to possibly save Lester Park Golf Course by changing a 130-year-old state law to allow alcohol on the course.
“It’s an idea whose time was and has passed long ago,” said Ness. “Now it’s time for us to update the laws to reflect people’s expectations.”

Prohibition of alcohol lives on in Duluth’s Lakeside and Lester Park neighborhoods.

Mayor Ness believes the old-fashioned dry laws, which bans the sale of alcohol, is part of the reason the Lester Park Golf Course is in serious debt.

Technically, on half of the Lester Park Golf Course, you can serve drinks, but the Clubhouse is on the side where alcohol is banned.

The mayor’s goal this legislative session is to simply get the line moved around the Clubhouse.

He’s turning to lawmakers in St. Paul because the law banning alcohol is a state law, so moving the line is for the legislature to decide.

On the east end of Superior Street, you’ll see small coffee shops and unique store fronts, but one thing you won’t find is a place to have a beer.

“It’s kind of one of those historical oddities or point of interest,” said Ness.

Back in the 1890s, religious backgrounds separated Lakeside and Lester Park from the rest of Duluth.

When they became part of the city, temperance laws were put in place and still stand today.

“Now we have these laws that date back 130 years that still define the experience of modern-day people living in these neighborhoods,” Ness explained.

Ness believes the laws are old fashioned, and with his last few months in office, he’s working to make drinking at the Lester Park Golf Course legal.

“The ability to have a liquor license on site definitely changes the economics of the golf course,” he said.

Ness believes not being able to have a beer on the course or at the clubhouse is killing business. With a liquor license, the venue would be able to host more events like weddings, corporate parties and class reunions.

When comparing city owned Enger Park Golf Course to the Lester course, city officials say Enger breaks even.

They believe it’s the ability to sell alcohol and host gatherings that sets it apart from Lester.

“We’re hopeful that the legislature will consider it during this session and pass it, and have liquor sales available for this summer,” said Ness.

Moving the line is part of Ness’ bigger vision to eventually revoke the dry laws in Lakeside and Lester Park completely.

“There’s been a huge influx of young people and young families into this neighborhood,” Ness explained.

About 10 years ago, a referendum to repeal the dry laws failed by a single vote, but Ness believes another vote this year would tell a different story.

“I am absolutely convinced if the vote was brought forward today that it would pass with an overwhelming majority,” he said confidently.

Ness feels it just makes sense for a place like New London Café or Sammy’s Pizza to serve drinks if they want.

“Many people would like to have a glass of wine or a craft beer, locally made craft beer with their meal,” Ness explained. “Right now the restaurants operating in Lakeside and Lester Park can’t offer that.”

Jim Acheson has been tossing pizza dough at Sammy’s Pizza on Superior Street for decades, and says even if he could sell booze he wouldn’t.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen while I own the business,” said Acheson. “This is 18 seats — primarily take-out and delivery. I don’t think it makes sense for this business.”

While he is supportive of Ness’ movement, Acheson thinks his neighbors will put up a good fight to keep things the way they are.

“I think if this passed and the mayor was held responsible I think there is more potential for making a few more enemies rather than a few more friends,” said Acheson.

He believes much of the neighborhood is split on allowing alcohol and the people who are against it have much stronger feelings than those who are supportive.

The mayor says he’s trying to balance convenience without changing the culture of the neighborhood.

Axing the dry laws isn’t something he wants to push on Lakeside and Lester Park. Ness says he wants the people who live there to make the final decision, and with a possible referendum this November, they will.

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