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Bentleyville converts to drive-through event due to pandemic

Updated: September 09, 2020 06:17 PM

In its 17th year, the annual Bentleyville Tour of Lights is being converted to a drive-through format as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to linger. "The board made the decision to offer something, rather than nothing," Nathan Bentley shared. He's the founder and executive director of the event. "This was the fourth plan we settled on. We even looked at other locations."

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The announcement was made at Bayfront Park on this chilly Wednesday. Bentley thanked Duluth Mayor Emily Larson and other city officials for working to come up with a new solution for the event which normally attracts hundreds of thousands of people to the park in November and December. "We will be building a temporary road through Bayfront," Bentley said.

There will be a $10 charge to drive through. Bentleyville has previously been free, except for $5 parking, but Bentley explained that the charge was necessary because they won't be receiving donations in the park, among other losses in revenue. 

You can also use your credit card this year. Staff will manage that at the DECC parking lot, before you start your experience.

Bentley said they will also have to spend $25,000 or more to construct a temporary wooden road through the park. 

The iconic 128-foot tree and five million lights will still be put up, and Christmas music that normally plays on loudspeakers will instead be broadcast through a radio frequency.

Children ages 10 and under will still receive a Bentleyville hat and a bag of cookies from Santa Claus. Mrs. Claus and costumed characters will be there as well.

Bentley said they will also still collect food and toys for the Salvation Army. He said they are considering whether to implement a reservation system, but also said they wanted to make sure that people aren't turned away.

With the new format, the Bentleyville Store is moving from its previously-crowded spot in the warming house at Bayfront Park to Grandma's Sports Garden at 425 South Lake Avenue, allowing for social distancing. However, Bentley said they expect fewer impulse purchases at the new location.

Visit Duluth plans on marketing the event extensively in the Twin Cities. President and CEO Anna Tanski said, "We've seen some bright spots on the horizon, and this is definitely going to be what all of us are looking forward to, heading into some challenging months ahead." She said they've already been getting calls about Bentleyville.

The change is somewhat a return to the roots of the event, which began in 2001 with people driving by Bentley's elaborately-decorated home in Esko. The event converted to a walk-through format in 2003 and moved to Bayfront Park in 2009.

Bentleyville 2020 is scheduled to be open from Saturday, Nov. 21, through Sunday, Dec. 27. The event will open at 5 p.m. nightly and remain open until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, and until 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday.

Final details are still being worked out.

Set-up is scheduled to begin at the end of the month.

They hope to bring it back to a walk-through event next year, and make it free again.

Copyright 2020 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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