Judge rules for city in Marktplatz Mall sign case

NEW ULM – The City of New Ulm was granted a summary judgement Monday in Brown County District Court regarding a lawsuit it filed last August against the owners of the Marktplatz Mall over ownership of the digital sign in the City Hall parking lot.

The lawsuit was filed against Randy Danielson, SEK Financial and New Ulm Retail and Development, LLC (NURD) and other potential interests related to the property.

Judge Robert Docherty ruled Monday that the City was entitled to declaratory judgment and that an agreement made in 2001 between the City, the New Ulm Area Chamber of Commerce and Retail Investment II, LLC, which owned the mall at the time, was terminated.

Danielson, who has said in the past that he would challenge City efforts to claim the sign, was not at the Monday hearing. None of the other entities named in the lawsuit mentioned any opposition to it.

The 10-year agreement allowed the sign to be installed in the city parking lot on May 23, 2001. The pact called for the sign to be maintained by the mall owner in exchange for the City and the Chamber each receiving 10 percent of the sign’s advertising time. It allowed for automatic continuation as long as the mall owner notified the City at least 180 days prior to the end of the term.

The mall was sold six years ago to SEK Financial, managed by Danielson, and NURD, run by three businessmen from California and Ohio. The current mall owners did not renew the lease with the City when it expired in 2011. In addition, the City covered the sign’s electrical costs for years, due to non-payment by mall owners, despite the original agreement requiring joint payments.

The City contended in its lawsuit that no mall owner notified the City within the time frame, ending the agreement, asked for a declaratory judgment, and that the City alone has exclusive sign rights.

The lawsuit added that agreement terms stated that the mall owner does not have a right to transfer such designation to another person or organization, even if mall ownership itself is transferred; and that a new designation can only occur if the City and Chamber of Commerce approve it.

The sign, used by the Chamber Convention and Visitors Bureau for much of its earlier life, has been unused for the past few years and needs repairs estimated to cost more than $50,000, according to the City.

“This leads us down the path of repairing and/or upgrading the sign to make it useable again,” New Ulm City Manager Brian Gramentz said.

“I don’t give two hoots about the sign,” Danielson said. “I wasn’t notified of the hearing. … I’m looking at lawsuits against the City of New Ulm. … Every six months or so, they come up with something against me, in some way, shape or form.”

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com).

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