Bentleyville ramps up security ahead of Saturday opening
Santa isn't the only one keeping an eye on visitors during Duluth's Tour of Lights. Donated security services will increase surveillance for the event's newly expanded retail space.
DULUTH — The Bentleyville Tour of Lights will return to Bayfront Festival Park for another season of winter wonder — as well as ramped-up security — Saturday night.
Admission is free, made possible by the support of hundreds of volunteers, local businesses and organizations. The display is open through Dec. 26.
On opening night, Santa Claus will be skydiving into Bayfront Park at 4:55 p.m., followed by fireworks at 5:30 p.m.
With up to 350,000 annual attendees estimated each year, Visit Duluth estimates a $21 million–$22 million economic impact to the community during the 38 days Bentleyville is open.
"Last year was our first year back from our drive-thru with COVID," Bentleyville founder Nathan Bentley said. "Now, COVID seems to be drifting away a little bit more in people's minds, so I think the public's going to come out even stronger. Ticket sales at concerts throughout the city, state and country have skyrocketed. People are out doing things and I think we're going to see a lot of people coming here to Duluth. The hotels, from my communication with a number of them, they are (doing) very well booking."
While most visitors find themselves on Santa's "nice" list, theft and vandalism have been ongoing in the event's past 15 years at Bayfront.
"Weather conditions actually have a lot to do with things," Bentley said. "The warmer the weather, the more trouble you'll see actually in any community of people out wandering around and causing mischief, so it kind of varies from year to year."
Depending on the year, Bentley said the attraction loses up to $10,000 in equipment and supplies due to theft, in addition to charges pressed for vandalism. Such losses are replenished by more fundraising, requesting more money from sponsors and cutting back on displays.
"We have set budgets for how much we're going to put towards displays," Bentley said. "So when we set that budget in February, and we know that we have to replenish X amount of dollars in stuff that's either been damaged, stolen or vandalized. It comes out of the budget for things that should be adding more fun."
To ensure families are able to focus on warm memories and fun times, Bentleyville partnered with Downtown Computer , a Duluth-based computer sales and service company.
In 2021, Downtown Computer donated around $20,000 in start-up services by installing and monitoring a campuswide closed-circuit television system at Bentleyville, complete with cameras in elevated locations, recorders, surveillance management systems and other technology that can be remotely accessed 24/7, according to Downtown Computer President Nicholas Mancini.
"Bentleyville is a huge economic impact for what I would say is a majority of our customers," he said. "Hotels, restaurants, the shops in town — they all need computers, networks and guys like us to keep their stores safe, but also functioning."
Following the success of the video surveillance system, which deterred vandals in 2021, additional security measures for 2022 were announced during a media conference Thursday. Continued costs for the security services are estimated at a $15,000 annual donation.
This year's video surveillance footprint of the event will expand. In addition to the system launched last year, Downtown Computer is monitoring Bentleyville’s newly purchased 4,000-square-foot retail space. The former 800-square-foot retail space is now used as heated storage for backstock items.
"Various businesses came together to help build this, from the iron workers (union members) donating their services to put it up, to Sunbelt Rental donating the floor, the mats being donated to us, and, of course, Downtown Computer putting security in for us. Everybody is coming together to help make this work," said Bentley.
Downtown Computer has also developed a next-generation network to handle Bentleyville’s point-of-sale and other IT needs, Mancini said. Altogether, he estimates the system took 70 hours and a crew of 14 people to install.
In addition, organizers consult with the Department of Homeland Security regarding safety measures due to the size of the event, Bentley said. The Duluth Police Department is hired to provide additional patrol during Bentleyville hours of operation.