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Bentleyville transforms into drive-through for 2020

Roadways made from hardwood will allow visitors to drive through the light experience

With temporary roadways and tunnels, the Duluth winter light walk-through display known as Bentleyville will transform into a drive-through experience to remain safe during the pandemic this year. 

Hardwood matting will be laid out in Bayfront Park over cobblestone or parts of the park that were intended for walking or bicycles, Nathan Bentley explained at a Wednesday press conference. 

That's the most dramatic change this year, he said, adding the event will also have a new $10 cover charge per car to assist with expenses and keep the event sustainable for next year. The 128-foot tall dancing tree and five million lights will still go on. Even Santa Claus (with gloves and presumably a mask) will still be on deck to hand out hats and candy to children in their cars. 

"This is a really good example of multiple people coming together with the best and highest purpose in mind, which is how do we continue provide some joy and opportunity for families and people to have special time this winter when so much is feeling disrupted and thrown off and pulled out from under us. We still have this light experience," Mayor Emily Larson said. 

The plan unveiled today is in its fourth version, Bentley said, with input from Bentleyville and the city of Duluth. The plan includes safety specifics, such as placing one ticket per kid on windshields to tell Santa in advance how many hats are needed. 

"One of my first questions was about this road," Larson said. "This is a really special park, and in the summer ... it's fully activated and filled with festivals and things we need the grounds to be in very good shape for. So these were all the questions that our team had, does this plan work and make sure festivals and concerts can go on? We need to protect this public asset. This plan does that." 

The event draws people from across the state and region, Visit Duluth president Anna Tanski said. Though it will probably bring in less revenue to surrounding businesses than usual, its impact "goes beyond the dollars," she said. 

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"This event puts Duluth on the national spotlight for media coverage and exposure, it creates family experiences across all of the US for people who choose to come here and spend time in our community, as well as our local residents who benefit from an amenity that we could have seen go away with all of our challenges we are facing," she said. 

Maps that detail the layout of the temporary roadways and traffic directions are expected to go online soon. 

"We've had many different plans and scenarios, and we've met numerous times with the fire departments and city people, and we feel this is the best plan we've got," Bentley said, adding he is ready to make tweaks if needed, especially regarding traffic. 

Bentleyville is planned to run from Nov. 21 through Dec. 27. The giant tree is expected to go up Oct. 10. 

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