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Samborski gets a second look

The Duluth City Council appears poised to rehire the promoter it fired more than a month ago as a result of the mayor's unsuccessful showdown with the Bayfront Blues Festival.

The Duluth City Council appears poised to rehire the promoter it fired more than a month ago as a result of the mayor's unsuccessful showdown with the Bayfront Blues Festival.

Councilors' decision to void Craig Samborski's five-year contract to run the festival park and promote several city-sponsored events will cost taxpayers an additional $50,000, according to a resolution offered by At Large Councilor Roger Reinert.

The extra money for 2007 is for his events budget, Samborski said, not for him.

Samborski said he needs the extra $50,000 to defray lost beer revenue he was counting on from the Bayfront Blues Festival to pay for the city's Fourth Fest. He said it costs about $75,000 to put on Fourth Fest.

"It's not a bonus," said Samborski, whose company, Secret Service Entertainment, also would have the right to promote concerts at Bayfront. "The revenue stream we'd built into paying for Fourth Fest is now gone."

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When councilors fired Samborski, they were careful to say that it wasn't because of anything the veteran concert promoter had done. They said it was the only way they could eliminate provisions in the contract that gave the city -- and Samborski -- control of lucrative alcohol sales at Bayfront events and concerts, as well as a piece of merchandise sales and a new partnership with Ticketmaster.

In a letter to councilors, Samborski said the 23 events and concerts he's scheduled for this summer will cover the extra $50,000 he'll be asking for at Monday's City Council meeting. He will earn a flat rate of $48,500 from the city for each of the next five years, with the provision that either the city or Samborski could walk away at the end of each season if things don't work out, Samborksi said.

The new contract appears to include few, if any of the provisions Mayor Herb Bergson and Samborski had originally sought.

The BluesFest also is scratched off the list of events Samborski would help run. Changes to the park's management contract almost caused Bayfront Blues Festival organizers to bolt last month to a venue outside the city.

"I've been really impressed with Craig," Reinert said. "It's too bad he got in the middle of this whole Bayfront Blues Festival thing. He really has great ideas and wants three or four major acts a year down at Bayfront. And he can get it done, which is important, because nobody in Parks and Rec has those skill sets."

Most councilors blamed Bergson for the changes and consequent standoff. However, both the City Council and Duluth Economic Development Authority also had approved Samborski's contract late last year without questions.

Bergson said Wednesday that he will continue with his pledge to audit the Bayfront Blues Festival.

Bergson has questioned the number of complimentary tickets Bluesfest organizers distributed. He also said they didn't pay the appropriate fees and that not all vendors' sales tax revenue had been reported.

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Councilor Russ Stewart, who helped head off the Bluesfest organizers' plans to move, said he and his colleagues should accept responsibility for not reading the contract closely enough. Stewart, though, said he's still uncertain whether the city should spend thousands of dollars on entertainment at Bayfront when there are so many more pressing needs.

Stewart said he'll use today's agenda session to seek answers to some of his questions about the new contract.

CHRIS HAMILTON covers the Duluth community and city government. He can be reached weekdays at (218) 279-5502 or by e-mail at chamilton@duluthnews.com .

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