DECC tabbed to book Bayfront events

Bayfront Festival Park will be under new management in 2012, and Mayor Don Ness expects a familiar partner will make the concert venue a busier place.

DECC to handle Bayfront events
DECC Executive Director Dan Russell talks to Duluth Mayor Don Ness about shows that played at Bayfront Festival Park when the DECC previously managed the venue. Ness has selected the DECC to take over the management of the venue. (Clint Austin /

Bayfront Festival Park will be under new management in 2012, and Mayor Don Ness expects a familiar partner will make the concert venue a busier place.

The Duluth Entertainment Convention Center will take over booking the park when Secret Service Entertainment's contract expires at the end of this year, assuming the Duluth City Council agrees with Ness' pick.

Secret Service has managed Bayfront since 2007 under a five-year contract, and the firm has been criticized for failing to bring enough high-profile acts to the park.

Ness said he believes the DECC can help lift Bayfront's performance to the next level.

"Secret Service is a promoter, and when you have a promoter managing a park and working with other promoters, you're going to have perceived conflicts," Ness said. "The DECC stands above the fray. It has established relationships and trust and support that a one-person operation can struggle to provide."


Director Dan Russell said the DECC already works with promoters of large national acts.

"We have the resources to put a $200,000 deposit down for a show. We're used to doing that," he said.

Russell said the DECC also would have the unique ability to move an event from Bayfront to neighboring Amsoil Arena if foul weather threatened.

The DECC would bring other in-house services to the table, as well, including ticketing operations, trained security staff and event-planning experience.

Ness said he saw marked improvement at Bayfront already this year.

"I was concerned with the level of activity in 2010, and I saw it as a problem," Ness said. "But 2011 was probably the best year Bayfront has ever had. We're seeing promoters showing more interest."

Steve Grazier, Secret Service's president, said he took over responsibilities at Bayfront in early 2010.

"It was a big growth year for us. The number of events Bayfront hosted went up 63 percent in 2010. But there was not a lot of big stuff," said Grazier, noting that large acts are often booked a year in advance.


Under its contract, Secret Service was to bring at least one national-level performer to Bayfront each year. In 2010, the biggest-name act Secret Service brought to the park was guitarist Leo Kottke, who drew about 300 people to his concert.

But Grazier said his efforts in 2010 laid the groundwork for the current year, which saw another 15 percent increase in activity, as well as the booking of Willie Nelson at Bayfront.

Russell praised Secret Service for Bayfront's recent performance.

"This year they put together a pretty impressive schedule of events," said Russell, adding that he will ask Grazier to stay on and help the DECC with Bayfront.

Ness said he has such confidence in DECC staff that the city will drop its requirement for the booking of at least one national act a year.

"We're not structuring this contract to meet a minimum but to encourage as much activity as we can," he said.

Any agreement will need to win the Duluth City Council's approval before it takes effect. Dave Montgomery, Duluth's chief administrative officer, said the city will seek a three-year contract providing $50,000 per year in management fees.

At Large City Councilor Jeff Anderson served on a Bayfront task force and said he welcomes Ness' decision to try to change up the park's management.


"A lot of people wanted more out of that venue," Anderson observed.

As for the selection of the DECC, Anderson said: "I think this is the right decision for Bayfront, and the DECC has a history with that venue in its early days.

"Largely because of its proximity, I view Bayfront almost as an extension of the DECC. It makes sense to have the experienced and talented folks next door who already manage a world-class facility also manage Bayfront," he 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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