NEW ULM — The beleaguered Marktplatz Mall in downtown New Ulm dodged another bullet this week — this time by paying its light bill.
The city had decreed that utilities would be shut off today tuesday if $4,000 in overdue bills wasn’t forthcoming.
On Monday the tab was paid by a party or parties not divulged by city officials, though mall co-owner Randy Danielson indicated last week he’d pay it to keep the mall open even though it’s not his bill.
The overdue amount was owed by the owners of the other half of the mall — three out-of-state real estate entities who last year fought to avoid foreclosure proceedings.
And in another development this week, the Brown County Board of Commissioners moved to rescind its effort to start tax-forfeiture proceedings on the mall after Danielson paid delinquent taxes he owed on his portion of the facility.
“It’s a tangled web,” former New Ulm businessman and local historian George Glotzbach said of the 23-year-old mall’s long history of multiple owners, operational difficulties and vacant storefronts.
“From afar, it’s funny. From close up, it’s one of those situations where you have people who have hard and fast opinions...and they just don’t mesh.”
The county and the city have had their issues with the owners, and the owners have issues with each other. The latter’s labyrinth of legalities has been fraught with lawsuits, countersuits, liens and mortgage holdings.
None of the owners could be reached for comment Monday, and the city attorney’s office did not return a phone call.
City Manager Brian Gramentz said the city’s utility shut-off decision was not an impulsive act.
“It’s not something that’s just showed up. We’ve been in contact with (the owners). It’s just that we have our rules and regulations. If you don’t pay, the power is off.”
Gramentz said in the past some of the mall tenants have ponied up to pay the utility bill and keep the building open.
One tenant, day-care business owner Crystal Frederickson, said she would have paid out of her own pocket to remain open rather than have to turn away more than 100 children.
Meantime, a cold war between the ownership groups has resulted in the erection of a wall separating the mall’s north and south portions.
“I built it myself,” said Ted Jafvert, who manages the mall portion owned by the out-of-state group.
That portion has three businesses, including a Herberger’s department store, while Danielson’s portion contains two small businesses.
Jafvert said he built the wall at the behest of the north portion’s owners because last winter there was too much cold air emanating from Danielson’s marginally heated portion.
Last winter, a reporter visiting the southern portion of the mall came upon a retiree walking the halls for exercise who said it was so frigid in there he usually wore mittens.
Jafvert said as manager he works 90 hours a week — “I even clean toilets” — as he tries to increase the tenant occupancy rate in the north portion. He said that will be a tough sell as long as Danielson continues to be involved in the mall’s operation.
Danielson bought the southern portion of the mall in 2008. He told The Free Press last year that although he viewed the mall as an economic disaster, he had high hopes for its resurgence, with plans to lower rents substantially and lure a larger anchor-type store.
Those plans have not come to fruition.