A.L. Art Center awarded $458,000Published 3:58pm Wednesday, November 16, 2011
A Freeborn County District Court judge awarded the Albert Lea Art Center $458,000 in damages and contractual breaches.
Judge Steve Schwab ruled in favor of the Art Center on Monday in a long-running lawsuit against its landlord, granting the Art Center’s request to terminate its 99-year lease with property owner Susanne Crane.
The lease will be rescinded in 120 days.
The judgment states Crane breached the lease by disturbing the Art Center’s “quiet enjoyment” of the building and by barring use of certain leased areas, including the common areas and the basement. It also stated Crane committed a “wrongful eviction.”
“We are very pleased with the outcome, and we appreciate the court’s taking the time necessary to make a proper decision,” said Lu Callstrom, the Art Center’s board president. “This has been a very difficult chapter in the Art Center’s long history. While we never wanted to be involved with the legal process like this, we were given no choice by our landlord. We are now anxious to move on with our business of proudly promoting the arts in Albert Lea and the surrounding area.”
According to court documents, Crane purchased the building, 224 S. Broadway Ave., from the Albert Lea Art Center in November 2005 for $40,000 with a down payment of $4,000. The balance of $36,000 would be paid back over 15 years with 6 percent interest. In return, Crane would lease the building back to the Art Center for 99 years at $1 per year.
Crane, a board member at the time, agreed to renovate the building, live there and lease it.
However, shortly after the transaction, the relationship began to deteriorate, documents state. The relationship was described by board members as “toxic.”
Schwab stated Crane limited the Art Center to use of only one bathroom, evicted the Art Center from the basement, removed property from the common area, harassed staff, volunteers and guests, and did not make or pay for repairs to the building. Likewise, documents state Crane barred certain Art Center board members from the building, imposed arbitrary hours the building could be open, failed to pay utilities in a timely fashion and did not allow the Art Center to maintain thermostats in its space.
Of the money Schwab ordered Crane to pay was $7,193 for Crane’s portion of the utility bills that were paid by the Art Center.
The Art Center, a nonprofit corporation run by a board of directors, filed the lawsuit in 2009.
The ruling followed a five-day trial that ended Aug. 17.