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Still talking: City gets one tenant lined up, United seeks corporate sponsorship

The threat of litigation between the City of Woodbury and Minnesota United Marketing LLC initiated in August has passed.

Last week, Woodbury City Administrator Clint Gridley confirmed that the city is working through lease details for what he now calls “the annex” — a 7,253-square-foot shell on the west side of Bielenberg Sports Center. The possible tenant, Gridley confirmed, is Summit Orthopedics.

But that’s where things get tricky, because Minnesota United Football Club wants to bring in corporate sponsor HealthEast. Determining just what names will be attached to the sports complex almost led to litigation six weeks ago. 

Construction of the shell was paid for by the Minnesota United, when the team intended to make BSC its official training facility. At the time, the city and United entered into two separate contracts — one a facility agreement, the other a marketing agreement. The latter was incorporated so the United could recoup some of the $925,000 it spent to build the space designated for the training facility.

 However, after the team terminated an agreement with the city for that space May 4, the city engaged a broker to find a new tenant to occupy the annex. Also on May 4, the two parties signed an addendum to the marketing agreement, which was designed to clarify the parameters by which the United could market Bielenberg Sports Center. 

Problems arose in July, when the United submitted a naming proposal for Bielenberg Sports Center. That proposal called for renaming the entire campus to reflect the name of HealthEast Sports Center.

The Woodbury City Council went into closed session Aug. 26, to talk about a threat of litigation brought by the United’s legal counsel. The threat was based on a marketing agreement between the two parties. No litigation has been filed, and the two parties continue to work through the parameters of the marketing agreement that is in place.

However, the Woodbury Bulletin submitted a data request to the City of Woodbury on the matter, to learn more about why the possibility of litigation existed. The request was for emails between the United and the City of Woodbury, from May 4, when the facility agreement was terminated, through the end of August. 

Vague communication

The email correspondence indicates that, also on May 4, Woodbury’s Communications Coordinator Jason Egerstrom was contacted by the United’s Partnership Activation Coordinator Brooke Dotson. In her email, Dotson asked for photos of Bielenberg Sports Center. 

“We are starting to push for a naming rights partner for the Bielenberg facility,” Dotson wrote. 

At the same time, the City of Woodbury had also engaged a broker to find a tenant for the annex. The United had signed away all rights to the site, and the space is fully owned by the city, according to Gridley. Use of the space, and who the tenant may be for that site, is at the city’s discretion, he said in an email last week.

In the weeks to come, Dotson communicated with Woodbury communications intern Emma Jarrett, asking for statistics about Bielenberg Sports Center’s use. In one email, Jarrett asked for “any digital brochures or advertising materials you’re sending out.” None of the emails included such documents. Last month, Egerstrom confirmed they city never received any of the materials for which Jarrett asked.

Also in early May, Parks Director Bob Klatt emailed Dotson, saying he was “wondering if we need to get together to talk about next steps related to sponsorship.”

Dotson said she would refer him back to Andrea Yoch, vice president of business development for the United. 

Gridley said he became aware of the “HealthEast proposal” the following day, through a phone call from the United and a follow-up email. 

“While P&R (parks and recreation) staff have worked with MNU on smaller items and dasher board signage, we have not been involved in any of their larger sponsorship marketing activities,” Gridley said last week.  

It was Gridley’s response to Yoch, dated Aug. 23, that initiated a subsequent threat of litigation from the Minnesota United’s legal counsel.

Agree or disagree

From the earliest discussions between the City of Woodbury and the United, Gridley has held fast that Bielenberg Sports Center will always be the predominant name for the location. In an Oct. 13, 2013 email, as a potential partnership was just forming, he wrote: “Any whole complex BSC sponsorship that might be arranged by MNU would have to be in second place to the Bielenberg Sports Center name.”

However, the proposal submitted by the United not only showed HealthEast as being the predominant name, drawings submitted with the proposal indicated it would be incorporated onto directional signs. 

It also called for a backlit sign on the exterior of the building that faces “HealthEast Field.”

In his July 23 email to Yoch, Gridley referred to the marketing agreement in place, writing, “No naming rights are to be allowed at Miracle Field or Madison’s Place including the splash pad. There is no right to rename BSC or the entirety of the BSC facility.”

In his email, Gridley also advises that the city’s potential tenant for the annex space — later identified as Summit Orthopedics — is a competitor for HealthEast. 

“Should there be a conflict between a proposed naming advertiser and a city tenant under consideration, the City staff would consider that a basis to recommend to the council withholding approval,” he wrote.

City Attorney Mark Vierling was contacted by the Minnesota United Marketing LLC’s attorney, Steve Gaskins of Gaskins of Bennett, Birrell, Schupp on Aug. 12. In his letter to Vierling, Gaskins said he would seek court clarification of the agreement unless the city allowed “the company to rename the facility,” and that the “new name will be used exclusively to identify the facility.” 

In his response a week later, Vierling referred back to the marketing agreement language, pointing out that “‘Bielenberg Sports Center’ must remain predominantly in the name.”

Vierling goes on to note that United President Nick Rogers had indicated the HealthEast proposal as “only being a concept and is not an actual proposal.

“Prior discussions regarding what may or may not be approved are preliminary and prospective pending a formal and detailed application by MNU of a real sponsor’s proposal. 

“Until the City has such an application, and the City Council has taken final action on it, I believe your client has no cause of action,” Vierling further wrote. 

The city council met in closed session on Aug. 26.

In a subsequent email on Aug. 31, Rogers shared “basic principles and approaches being used in our naming rights and sponsorship with third parties.” 

Since that time, Gridley said, the city and United “continue to discuss application of the marketing language.” Minnesota United Marketing LLC has not proceeded with its threat of litigation.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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