Bentleyville Founder Says He's Evaluating Light Display's Future

By KBJR News 1

December 7, 2012 Updated Dec 7, 2012 at 10:50 PM CST

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - The future of Minnesota's largest lights display could be in question.

The founder of Bentleyville says the operation has been very stressful and he's evaluating options for next year and beyond.

Bentleyville is in the third year of a three year lease with the city of Duluth.

Bentleyville founder Nathan Bentley says he isn't necessarily planning on shutting down, but he's certainly considering options to make the event, 'less stressful.'

"The intention has always been and always will be a wholesome family event," said Bentley.

Bentley says recent events have taken some of the fun out of that celebration. The distraction in question is the dispute between Bentleyville and two Northland preachers, who claim they have a right to share their religious beliefs on Bentleyville grounds.

"It's certainly a distraction from what our purpose has been," said Bentley.

The preachers, Peter Scott from Hibbing, and Steve Jankowski, from Duluth, sued for that right and a U.S. District Judge agreed, allowing them to preach on Bentleyville grounds in all events to come.

"We're going to reevaluate everything about how Bentleyville is done down at Bayfront," said Bentley.

Bentley says the dispute with the preachers has caused a lot of stress and that's causing him to rethink the future of the lights display.

"What's going to take place in the future is probably the biggest question," said Bentley, "Will it become a circus down there with lots of distractions going on or will it somehow be able to be reined in?"

Bentley says he plans to weigh the options and talk with city leaders, but as of now, no decisions have been made.

Duluth violated an injunction issued last year which allowed the preachers to share their views on public property, including on the grounds of Bentleyville.

Bentleyville leaders had set up a zone, just outside the gates, and designated it a first amendment zone. The preachers claimed they should not be relegated to a zone and that they had the same rights as every citizen to share their views on public city property.

Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis ruled in favor of the preachers saying Duluth violated an injunction issued last year which allowed the preachers to share their views on public property, including on the grounds of Bentleyville.

Written for the web by Jennifer Austin.