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The $26 million Vadnais Sports Center was completed two years ago.

Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

The Vadnais Sports Center, which opened in November 2010, has two hockey rinks and a domed field. An audit showed ‚Äúsignificant deficiencies‚ÄĚ that led to the firing of its management company, which has countersued, alleging that defamatory statements were made.

Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

The center is still open for business, but the city says promoting events is difficult since it has had to set up a new website.

Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

Vadnais Heights suing former arena management group for website rights

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW
  • Star Tribune
  • October 15, 2012 - 10:45 PM

Vadnais Heights is seeking to gain control of the website and domain name that's been used up to now for its embattled sports complex.

The city Friday sued the company that planned and ran the Vadnais Sports Center, Sports Facility Development and Management Group, and its CEO, Mark Bigelbach, claiming they did not turn over ownership of the website when they were fired in August over management issues.

At the same time Friday, Bigelbach and the management group filed suit against Vadnais Heights claiming that the city breached its contract and that a City Council member and city employee defamed them. They had served the city with the suit last month.

Meanwhile, City Administrator Gerry Urban said Monday the city could sign a contract this week with a new company to take over operations of the two-year-old complex. He declined to name the company.

As the accusations and lawsuits fly, the sprawling $26 million facility with two hockey rinks and a domed field continues to operate and all events are continuing as scheduled.

Finding them, however, may become a bit more difficult since the arena's website Monday was operating under www. vadnaissportscenter.net rather than the former www.vadnais sportscenter.com.

In its lawsuit, Vadnais Heights claims that without access to the former site, it is "unable to conduct appropriate and necessary Internet marketing and business transactions related to the Vadnais Sports Center."

According to the suit, an employee with the Sports Facility company is listed as the registrant of www.vadnais sportscenter.com.

Much of the legal sparring has grown out of an audit conducted this spring for the city by the Edina accounting firm Abdo, Eick & Meyers. The firm's report said the Sports Facility company had not fixed "significant deficiencies" that were brought to its attention.

Those "deficiencies" included concerns about missing and unsigned contracts involving the center's users and advertisers, internal controls over accounting procedures, advertising commission payments made to a relative of the center's management company and laxity on checking user permits.

To date, the city has loaned the complex $830,000 to pay its bills, including a recent $35,000 payment to Xcel Energy, which threatened to cut off the power.

Bigelbach and the management company were fired by the City Council on Aug. 20. They claim in their suit against Vadnais Heights that Council Member Dennis Joe Murphy made defamatory statements during city meetings that "willfully and maliciously" harmed their reputation.

The suit also claims that Finance Director Bob Sundberg should have known that statements he made during city meetings were "false and defamatory" about the city not having access to the management's bank records, that the management company wrongfully deposited $19,000 of money allegedly belonging to the city and that Bigelbach did not provide information requested by the city auditor.

"The city denies any wrongdoing," said Lawrence M. Shapiro, a Minneapolis attorney who is representing the city. "The city and officials behaved appropriately in response to the audit's findings. The city will vigorously defend its actions in court."

Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib

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