Vintage Mall sign removal

A worker from Install This Sign and Awning in Minneapolis remove the last part of the iconic rotosphere neon ball in front of the Mankato Vintage Mall earlier this month. File photo

MANKATO — The former Dutler's Bowl and now former antique mall property is heading toward forfeiture for years of unpaid taxes.

Michael Stalberger, Blue Earth County taxpayer services director, said taxes haven't been paid since 2015 and there is currently just under $200,000 in property taxes owed.

He said the property is now eligible for forfeiture and that process will begin this summer.

"There's a fairly lengthy process to go through, and then there's an order from the court and then the state becomes the owner and we're responsible for administering it," Stalberger said.

He said unless the back taxes were to be paid soon, the property could be forfeited by later this year. Once the state takes ownership, the county is responsible for selling the property through an auction.

Money raised from an auction would pay all taxes and assessments owed to the county, city, school district and state. If there is money left over, part of it would be paid to the county's tax forfeiture fund and the rest would be split between the three local government entities.

Jerry Dutler's Bowl, operated for decades by the late Gerald Dutler, was turned into a vintage mall in 2016 by Ruth Dutler. This week, vendors who had sold items in the mall, cleared out and Ruth Dutler closed the building.

The iconic neon rotosphere atop the Dutler's pylon sign also was taken down and removed. The rotosphere was part of the original sign when the bowling alley opened in 1965, but it hasn't rotated since it broke around 1980.

One third of the property is owned by Twin Town Bowl. The Gerald Dutler Family Trust has a contract for deed on the property. And Kato Roofing has a lien on the property after it won a $130,000 court judgment against the property owners for fees not paid to it and other contractors for work done on the building.

Under the judgment, Kato Roofing can only collect the money owed it if the property is sold or refinanced. But Stalberger said that under the law, Kato Roofing would not be able to collect if the property is sold at auction after forfeiture.

He said the complexity of the ownership and the court judgment makes this a more complicated forfeiture case. "We've never had one quite like this."

The property and building have a taxable valuation of $895,000. There is also a small piece of land behind the building with a $15,000 valuation.

The property has been listed for sale for several months, with an asking price of $1.4 million.

Ruth Dutler has been at the center of controversies in the past.

In 2013 she agreed to pay up to $300,000 to her brother and his family. In return, a felony swindling charge that was hanging over Dutler's head went away.

Dutler, in a last-minute attempt to keep her foreclosed home from being sold at a sheriff's auction, allegedly persuaded her brother to pay off two mortgages totaling $280,000 on the large home across from the Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery near Kasota. Her brother expected to receive ownership of the house in exchange for the financial rescue.

But even as Dutler signed agreements with her brother, she was working to transfer the deed to her daughter, according to the criminal complaint charging her with theft by swindle.

Van Horn pursued criminal charges against Dutler, but the house ceased to exist a month later — burning to the ground in a spectacular Jan. 31 fire. The cause of the fire was never determined.

And in late 2015, when she still operated the bar inside the then closed bowling alley, Dutler's liquor license was suspended after 61 underage drinkers were cited in a police sting. She closed the bar and later opened the vintage mall.

Follow Tim Krohn on Twitter @TimKrohn

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