Building boom tops list of New Ulm stories of 2013

NEW ULM – 2013 was a big year for golden shovels in New Ulm. A number of multi-million dollar building or expansion projects made it a big year for the building industry, and made the building expansion in New Ulm the top local story, in a vote of Journal staff.

Journal employees from all departments, not just the newsroom, voted on the top ten local stories of 2013.

Number two on the list was the City of New Ulm settling a wrongful death lawsuit that resulted from the July 8, 2011 accident involving a New Ulm squad car, in which two people were killed. Number three was the death of a South Dakota man who was swept away in the rain-swollen Minnesota River after a kayaking accident in June.

In fourth place was the impact of the clergy abuse cases in Minneosta on the New Ulm Catholic Diocese, which was named in two lawsuits as the year neared a close.

In fifth place was the extensive lobbying New Ulm civic and commercial leaders did for the Highway 14 expansion project.

Sixth place went to the combined New Ulm Battery/Hermann Monument celebration in September which inspired the New Ulm City Council to allocate $15,000 in next year’s budget for a September fireworks show similar to the one put on last year for the celebration.

Number seven was the ongoing dispute between the owners of the Marktplatz Mall. Eighth was the opening of the new Menard’s store, after years of expectation and rumors. In ninth place was the buildilng of a new water tower in Nehls Park, which was protested by some of the park’s neighbors. In 10th place was the influenza outbreak last winter that led area hospitals to limit visitation.

1. Building Boom

The New Ulm Medical Clinic wasn’t alone when it announced a $5.3 million clinic expansion project, which would be financed entirely by Allina Health Care. The clinic joined the Diocese of New Ulm, which broke ground on the $7.5 million diocesan pastoral center at the corner of 5th North and Highland, and Martin Luther College, which started work on a new Early Childhood Learning Center not far away.

The three projects were just part of the building boom. An apartment complex on South Broadway near 20th South Street is currently under construction, as is the Higland Regency Apartment project next door to the MLC Early Childhood Center. Two other apartment projects are under way or set for construction in the spring, making it one of the busiest construction years for New Ulm in many years.

2. Wrongful Death Suit

A Minnesota State Patrol investigation found New Ulm Police Officer Matthew Rasmussen was traveling around 70 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone on July 8, 2011, to catch up with a speeding motorist who had been traveling about 40 mph. The Patrol also found Rasmussen’s lights and sirens were off when Myra Meyer turned left in front of him, turning into the Garden Terrace Apartments driveway. Rasmussen had only a split second to hit the brakes before hitting Meyer’s car. The accident killed Meyer and her son, Brian Wichmann, who was a passenger in the car.

A Redwood County grand jury presented a no-indictment decision for Rasmussen, and the surviving family members filed a wrongful death suit against the city.

In March the City reached a settlement agreement with the family, agreeing to pay $570,000, one of the highest such settlements ever in the region. Raasmussen continues to serve on the New Ulm Police Department, after serving a three-day suspension in for his part in the crash, and for other incidents mentioned in his disciplinary record. He has had no disciplinary problems since completing a Performance Improvement Plan last year.

3. Missing kayaker

Stephen Fritze, a sixth grade teacher from Watertown, S.D., was visiting family in New Ulm in June. On June 22, he and two friends went kayaking on the Minnesota River near Courtland. The kayakers got caught in some bushes, and their kayaks overturned. Fritze’s two companions made it to shore, but Fritze disappeared in the rain-swollen river.

Law enforcement agencies, led by the Nicollet County Sheriff’s Office, mounted a search of the river that lasted several weeks. After an extensive ground search in August, the search ended and Fritze was declared legally dead.

Finally, in November, a fisherman near Judson discovered Fritze’s remains in a log jam on the river, bringing an end to the tragedy.

4. Clergy Abuse

While news investigations of clergy sex abuse in Minnesota focused attention mostly on the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the New Ulm Diocese became involved in four lawsuits alleging misconduct.

In June, a lawsuit was filed against the Diocese by a man who claimed he was sexually abused by the Rev. Francis Markey when he was pastor at St. Joseph’s Parish in Henderson in 1982. Markey, a native of Ireland, died in September 2012 while awaiting trial in Ireland for the alleged sexual assault of a teenage boy in 1954.

In September, the Diocese of New Ulm and the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis were named in a suit alleging sexual misconduct by another deceased priest, Fr. David Roney, in the late 1960s. Roney, who died in 2003, had served in the St. Paul Archdiocese, and later in the New Ulm Diocese when it formed in 1958.

Another lawsuit, filed in November, alleged the Diocese should have known Fr. William Marks, who died in 1979, was a sexual predator and failed to protect parishioners.

A fourth suit filed in November claims the Diocese was negligent in allowing Fr. Markey to continue to have access to children, and seeks the release of the names of any diocesan clerics accused of abusing children.

The Diocese has issued statements regretting the acts of abuse and their “devastating effects,” and said the Diocese has been strengthening its systems and procedures to “address this grave issue.”

5. Highway 14

With the Minnesota Department of Transportation preparing its 20-year State Highway Improvement Plan, New Ulm civic and business leaders went into high gear to lobby for the inclusion of the Highway 14 expansion project all the way to New Ulm. The New Ulm Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Bob Beussman, and several business owners testified before legislative commitees seeking the inclusion of Highway 14, which would make it eligible for any future increases in federal highway funds.

In the end, MnDOT did not include Highway 14, but the project was the beneficiary of a $300 million “Corridors of Commerce” bonding project, which provided $45 million for several portions of the Highway 14 project, including expansion as far as Nicollet. Highway 14 proponents are vowing to keep pushing the Legislature for more funding.

6. Double Celebration

The New Ulm Battery, celebrating its 150th anniversary, and the Hermann Monument Commission, marking the 125th anniversary of the laying of the Hermann Monument cornerstone, joined forces in 2013 for a dual celebration in early September. It turned out to be a gala festival. The Battery sold chances to fire a cannon as a fundraiser, and dozens of volleys rang out over New Ulm from Hermann Heights Park. Food and music throughout the day led up to a “Thunder in the Valley” concert featuring the 1812 Overture, complete with an 11-cannon accompaniment. The grand finale was a large fireworks display over the Hermann Monument.

The event was such as success that plans are being made for a repeat in 2014. To support it, the New Ulm City Council included a $15,000 allocation in its 2014 budget for the fireworks display.

7. Marktplatz Mall wrangling

The legal dispute between the two owner groups of the Marktplatz Mall continued in 2013. A lawsuit filed by New Ulm Retail Development, LLC, owenrs of the northern two thirds of the mall against Randy Danielson, owner of the southern third and the holder of the first mortgage on the northern end, resulted in several motions. Judge Robert Docherty did place the mall in receivership, appointing Upper Midwest Management to collect the rents and oversee the management of the property. In the meantime, misdemeanor theft charges were filed against Danielson for keeping a ladder and scaffolding that had been used in building a wall separating the ends of the mall. When Danielson missed a court appearance, he was arrested and paid bail to earn his release. At his second court appearance, he was arrested again on an outstanding traffic warrant from Sibley County, and made another bail payment to earn his release.

The lawsuit is set for a jury trial in February.

8. Menard’s opens

After years of rumors, speculation and wondering when it was going to happen, Menard’s completed construction of its New Ulm store and opened on March 11. Mayor Bob Beussman “cut the ribbon” by sawing through a two-by-four with a power saw.

The project also brought New Ulm its first traffic roundabout on Highway 14 at the entrance to the Menard’s driveway.

9. Nehls Park Water Tower

Though neighbors of Nehl’s Park protested it, the City of New Ulm approved the construction of a new water tower in Nehl’s Park. The structure will replace an older water tower in Hermann Heights Park, and will also provide a spot for a Verizon cellular phone antenna.

10. Flu Season Hits Hard

2013 opened with an outbreak of influenza that had started in December and kept gaining steam.

The outbreak led several hospitals, including the Sleepy Eye Community Hospital, New Ulm Medical Center, and Madelia Community Hospital, to close their doors to visitors to prevent infection of patients.

Word of the outbreak was picked up in other news media, leading eventually to Dr. Joan Krikava, medical director for New Ulm Medical Center, doing an interview with CNN.

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