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Commissioners discuss George’s Ballroom

Photo taken from Brown County Highway Department drone video Plant growth on the roofs of George’s Ballroom was recently captured from Brown County Highway Department drone video footage.

NEW ULM — Brown County Commissioners discussed George’s Ballroom during a committee meeting report from Commissioner Scott Windschitl Tuesday.

The colorful, art deco building built in 1947 at the corner of Center and German Street closed in 1991 due to declining interest in ballroom dancing. It was acquired by Brown County in a tax forfeiture case, later sold at auction, then forfeited to the State of Minnesota in July 2019 due to unpaid property taxes.

“Drone video shows trees and bushes growing through the George’s Ballroom roof,” said Commissioner Windschitl. “(Realtor) Eric Bode said it would cost $5 million to restore and you’d need to make $30,000 a month to keep it going. A Blue Earth County firm estimated demolition costs at about $1 million.”

Windschitl suggested historically documenting the building site, keeping the lighted marquees, and other building signs.

“There is emotional attachment to it,” Commissioner Dave Borchert said. “I think there are safety concerns, if someone falls through the roof. I think we have to move to a resolution.”

“What you can’t wait to do is sell it again for a low price,” Commissioner Windschitl said. “We could have taken it down 18 years ago for less money.”

Brown County Administrator Sam Hansen said there is an April deadline for a state demolition grant.

“I’d like to move forward as quickly as we can,” said Commissioner Windschitl. “The (exterior) masonry may be strong but there is mold inside the building that has permeated into the concrete. It’s got to go down.”

Commissioners unanimously approved:

• Amending the sheriff’s office permit to carry fee for veterans, national guard, reservists or active duty U.S. Armed Forces members to $25, motion by Commissioner Borchert, seconded by Commissioner Simonsen.

Fees were $100 for new permits, $75 for renewals prior to 90 days of expiration, $85 for up to 30 days of expiration, and $10 for duplicate permits including address changes.

The fee cut is considered a way to honor and recognize men and women who serve the country with U.S. military service.

• By a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Borchert dissenting, setting an 11 a.m., Tuesday, April 27, hearing to begin the process to appoint the office of auditor-treasurer (AT) instead of electing it, motion by Commissioner Windschitl, seconded by Commissioner Veerkamp.

“I think it’s an opportunity to strengthen the position,” Windschitl said.

Commissioner Tony Berg said he’d like to offer the issue as a public referendum, as some counties have done.

“I feel an elected official allows voters to make a choice,” Borchert said. “I’d completely support a voter referendum.”

Brown County expects to have an AT office vacancy this year due to retirement. The process to move from an elected to an appointed commission takes several months.

County commissioners can only approve the change with an 80% (4/5) supermajority vote in favor of it. A public petition with 10% of eligible voters signing a petition within 30 days would rescind the resolution and stop the proposed change.

At any time after three years, the public can initiate a reverse referendum to return the office to an elected position.

• A Right of Way Easement Agreement with HADC Ridgeway for the Highway 13 (Boundary Street) Project, motion by Commissioner Windschitl, seconded by Commissioner Borchert.

A new alignment of Highway 13 from the Highway 29/North Highland Avenue intersection to existing Highway 13 north of New Ulm is in the 10-Year Construction Plan for 2021. The construction plan is 90% complete.

The New Ulm City Council will consider the agreement April 6.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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