Bentleyville declines Duluth tourism tax dollars

A pair of councilors suggests the city redirect $50,000 to support the construction of a skatepark in Gary-New Duluth.

The view from West First Street in Duluth at Bayfront Festival Park, site of Bentleyville, on Wednesday, November 3, 2021. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

In an unusual move, Bentleyville’s leadership has chosen to decline $50,000 in 2022 tourism tax funding the holiday light festival had stood to receive under a proposed resolution drafted by Duluth Mayor Emily Larson. And a skatepark being built in Gary-New Duluth could be the beneficiary of these recent developments.

Nathan Bentley, the event’s namesake and founder, explained that an initial request for financial support had been borne out of concern that, as the city shifts away from using Visit Duluth for its destination marketing services, the attraction might receive short shrift in terms of promotional support. However, he now feels comfortable that the city’s new vendor, Bellmont Partners , will be up to the task.

SEE ALSO: 'Blunt force': Understanding why the city ended its marketing with Visit Duluth

“We had applied for marketing dollars. But now that everything has been worked out between the city and Bellmont and Visit Duluth, we’re very confident Bellmont will continue to promote Bentleyville. So, we didn’t want to be double-dipping or taking money that wasn’t necessary,” Bentley said.


A tunnel of lights at Bentleyville at Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth as seen on Wednesday, November 3, 2021. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Larson credits Bentleyville’s leadership for taking a second look at the organization’s situation and withdrawing its previous request based on a new set of circumstances.

“I think there’s also recognition that the city really does a lot with Bentleyville in addition to the financial investment,” she said, noting that the services Duluth offers to support Bentleyville and Grandma’s Marathon — two extremely popular and high-profile events — go above and beyond what it provides to others.

A Bentleyville "Tour of Lights" sign on the grounds of Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth, site of Bentleyville, on Wednesday, November 3, 2021. Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Meanwhile, City Councilors Janet Kennedy and Derek Medved have introduced an amendment that would redirect the $50,000 originally proposed for Bentleyville to instead support the construction of a skatepark at the Gary-New Duluth Recreation Center .

“I know the skatepark is a really good endeavor, especially since skateboarding has become an Olympic sport now, and it’s just sort of the thing to do — maybe not for people my age, but for younger people,” said Kennedy, who represents Duluth’s 5th District, including Gary-New Duluth.


skate park drawing.jpg
An architectural rendering shows the skate park that is being constructed at the Gary-New Duluth Recreation Area. (Image courtesy of the Gary-New Duluth Development Alliance)

At large Councilor Medved, who lives in the area, as well, praised Bentleyville for making funding it might have received available for other uses. “It opens up this door to provide funding for a really cool project.”

Medved referred to the Gary-New Duluth Recreation Center as “a shining example” that can be used to improve community centers throughout the city in the future, with the help of both public and private funds.

Larson said the rec center had submitted a request for $600,000 in tourism tax funding, but in evaluating against other proposals, the project did not score as highly.

She noted that organizers projected the skatepark would attract 1,500 users, but it did not provide a clear estimate of how many of those likely would be tourists from outside the area.

“The city of Duluth has invested a lot with GND Rec. They are an awesome organization. But I did not include them in my recommendations for tourism tax , because I did not see it as a fit for tourism tax,” Larson said.

Proceeds from Duluth’s tourism tax are supposed to be earmarked specifically for uses that strengthen visitorship to the city.

She noted that the city already has invested $750,000 in the Gary New Duluth improvements as part of a larger package of St. Louis River Corridor projects on the western side of town. Larson said city staff has assisted with grant applications and administration, as well. On top of that, she pointed to the funds the city has provided to supply programming at the center, in conjunction with the YMCA.


Larson suggested the $50,000 originally proposed for Bentleyville might be better used to replenish the tourism tax reserve fund or to increase the amount of money that is provided to Duluth’s general fund annually, in recognition of the many city services provided in support of the tourism industry.

“I think I provided good grounding and reasoning for the recommendations I’ve made, and now, while my preference would be to support the recommendations as is and trust the process that’s happened, I respect and appreciate the autonomy of the council, as the legislative body to take the actions that they see as being important. So, this is not a fight I’m going to pick. But my recommendations remain what they were,” she said.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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