Bentleyville: It’s here, it’s bright, it’s freeBentleyville “Tour of Lights” is open to the public from 5-10 p.m. Nov. 27 through Jan. 2 at Bayfront Festival Park at no charge. Check the Web site, www.bentleyvilleusa.org, in inclement weather to ensure that Bentleyville will be open. Volunteer needs are also posted on the Web site.
By: Jana Peterson, Duluth Budgeteer News
In addition to warm winter wear, visitors to Bentleyville “Tour of Lights” might want to wear their walking shoes. That’s because creator Nathan Bentley and his crew of merry volunteers have covered all of Bayfront Festival Park, from the stage to the parking lots.
“Everything that was at my home [outside Cloquet], we’ve packed up and brought to Bayfront,” said Bentley, the creative mind behind Bentleyville. “We’ve made it larger and grander and added so many huge displays. … I got in my car the other night when we turned the lights on and drove down from Mesaba and Seventh Street. It looks incredible.”
For a moment, he is a boy, thrilled with his latest toy. Only this one covers several acres and is expected to draw an estimated 200,000 people during its 37-day run.
With the move to Duluth, Bentley decided to expand his display to pay homage to the Zenith City.
New this year is a 110-foot-long ore ship going under the Aerial Lift Bridge, which is 20 feet high and 44 feet wide and timed so the lights make it look as if the span is going up and down. It is bracketed by both the north and south piers, complete with lighthouses. Off in another part of the park is Enger Tower, 20 feet high and 9 feet wide with a green neon tube at the top.
“We tried to give it a Duluth feel,” Bentley said.
The display may have a Duluth flavor, but it is certainly not limited to replicas of famous local landmarks. Wander past the 12 Days of Christmas, Winter Park, Penguin Park and Ginger Park. Reacquaint yourself with the Bentleyville castle. Walk through 500 feet of tunnels. And kids, don’t forget to get your “hoof book” stamped by each of the nine reindeer wandering the park. (In Disneyland they have princesses; in the Northland we have reindeer and Frosty the Snowman and his wife.)
Bentleyville is, in essence, a public/private partnership. The city of Duluth provides the land and pays for electricity, garbage pickup and snow removal. Bentley (with help, of course) provides the myriad light displays and provides or coordinates free marshmallows, cookies, popcorn, hot chocolate, wood for the bonfires, costumes for the reindeer, hats from Santa and more. As always, people are encouraged to bring food items and unwrapped toys for people less fortunate this holiday season.
For those who say costs to the city are too high, Bentley politely — but with a tinge of frustration in his voice — says they’re wrong.
“[City Councilor] Jim Stauber said expenses for Bentleyville are mounting, but ... I’m not sure where he’s getting that idea. For the city to spend a few thousand dollars to bring in probably hundreds of thousands of people — what a deal,” Bentley said during a Nov. 11 interview. (On the subject of rumors, Bentley does not get paid for doing Bentleyville, even though Bentleyville became a non-profit organization earlier this fall.)
Amy Norris, public information coordinator for the city’s Parks and Recreation department, said the costs have been blown out of proportion.
“We — the city, Minnesota Power and the Bentleyville folks — figured out the cost per night to the city for the electricity to power Bentleyville,” Norris said. “It should run between $90 and $98 per night.”
Doing the math, with parking spaces at the DECC and the DEDA lots (adjacent to Bayfront Festival Park) going for $4 each, only 23 carloads will have to frequent the site to cover electrical costs.
“Plus, there’s no doubt we will collect more than $3,500 worth of food and toys down there,” Bentley said, estimating the electrical costs to the city. “That’s quite a return on their investment.”
Of course, you don’t have to pay for parking. For those who don’t mind a short walk, there is free parking downtown (on the street and in the city-run parking garages) and in Canal Park in the evenings.
Catch a “Jingle Bus,” free buses that will run on Superior Street and in Canal Park to allow visitors to shop and dine either before or after their visit to Bentleyville. Or make it an even bigger event and catch the train from Fitger’s to Bentleyville; round-trip tickets are $2 and are only available in the the Bookstore in Fitger’s.
While a core group of about 20 people have helped create Bentleyville for the past eight years, this year they’ve had to enlist a lot more volunteers.
The response hasn’t been overwhelming, Bentley told the Budgeteer, but it’s been enough to get the display together in even less time than usual.
He is still looking for a few more volunteers: Teenagers 16 or older (or adults, of course) are needed to don reindeer costumes or be character sidekicks, and more musical groups are invited to perform.
Another first for this year’s display is the Bentleyville store. While children 10 and younger who visit Santa Claus will still get a Bentleyville stocking cap, others can purchase a hat or other Bentleyville items on-site. Any profits will go to defray costs of the entire display. There are also a number of donation boxes for people who simply want to contribute.
“That money all goes to pay the bills we are piling up,” said Bentley, rattling off the things they still needed to pick up that
second week in November: portable toilets, eight pallets of cookies, first aid kits, radios and more.
Still, Bentley says he’d be most thrilled to see food and toy donations.
“Wouldn’t it be great if this is the first year the Salvation Army isn’t begging at the last minute?” he said. “We’re hoping to make an impact ... here and across the bridge.”