Billboard discussion during city meeting creates conflict

Hunter Herbaugh
Sunday, April 18, 2021
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Wednesday’s meeting of the city Finance, Utility, Property and Recreation Committee got surprisingly contentious as the topic of what to do about the two billboards advertising the Jordan Inn came up for discussion. The billboards, located on Towne Street and on the interstate coming into town from the east, had previously come up for discussion back in January where members of the committee noted how odd it was that they were still standing despite the business they were advertising having been closed for several years.

The signs are owned by Steve Marks, the owner of the Jordan Inn who currently lives in Michigan, though the land they sit on is owned by the city. As it turns out, the lease agreement between Marks and the city expired some time ago so the city sent a letter to Marks asking him to remove the billboards. If Marks does not remove the boards within 60 days of receiving the letter, the city will remove them instead.

At Wednesday’s meeting however, Paul Sturlaugson, operations manager at Glendive Broadcasting, which is also owned by Marks, spoke on Marks’s behalf, advocating that the city keep the billboards up. However, he didn’t advocate for keeping the advertisements on there, as he noted that he agreed it was “stupid” to continue advertising for a business that has not been in operation for some time. Instead, he suggested that the city partner with someone such as Glendive Broadcasting or the Chamber of Commerce to use the signs to advertise Glendive itself.

“Those two signs offer opportunity that I think we should not look beyond,” he said. “I think that the two entry points into Glendive ought to say something about what Glendive has to offer.”

Asking for clarification, councilman Gerald Reichert wondered if this meant Marks would continue to own the signs while partnered with another group. Sturlaugson confirmed that would be the case unless Marks sold the signs to someone else.

Another piece was added to the discussion by Amanda Heimbuch, owner of Country Girl Clay, when she said she was attending the meeting because she was actually interested in potentially purchasing one of the signs to advertise her own business. Having recently established a sign of her own coming into town from the west, she was interested in potentially buying the sign on the highway to increase her business’s visibility. With the only other sign potentially available for purchase being in North Dakota, she noted her options are to either purchase Marks’ billboard or contact a land owner and work out a deal to build her own sign

However, with the letter delivered to Marks to remove the signs, she wondered if that meant removing the signs was the only option available or if the city would be willing to extend the deadline for the signs’ removal to give her time to discuss a possible purchase with Marks. In response, Reichert noted that removing the signs was the current issue, but Heimbuch felt that her question was not adequately addressed as neither Reichert or any of the other committee members said if there could be a delay in their removal. Following the meeting, she noted her belief that the council, specifically Reichert, was getting distracted by their unfavorable history with Marks, to the point where they were more focused on that history than her question.

“They didn’t even listen to me, they didn’t even answer a single one of my questions, I asked the same thing five different ways and they would never actually directly answer my question because they were so caught up in being mad at Steve, that they couldn’t even listen to anything I had to say,” she said.

Dawson County Economic Development Council Executive Director Jason Stuart was also present at the meeting and he tried to reinforce Heimbuch’s question, though again did not receive a clear answer from the committee. Reichert, for his part, reiterated that in his view, renovating or refurbishing the signs is a separate issue than what the committee was currently addressing.

“My comment was that the signs and repurposing them to go to other people is a whole separate issue than what we’re talking about here. What we’re talking about here is our relationship with Mr. Marks, as the owner of the two signs, that’s it, and our request to him to get back to us about the signs because obviously the way they are now is not working,” he said.

However, Heimbuch noted that her request could tie directly into their goal of getting the signs taken care of.

“I was trying to ask if there was even an option that they would consider not tearing it down if I could get Steve to, say, sell it to me or fix it up and rent it to me. I understand that they probably just don’t want him to own it at all. Well, if I can alleviate that problem, if I can be the middle person that alleviates that ... I’m gonna try,” she said.

Heimbuch added that she will be making a second attempt to get her question through to the city and hopefully get better results than she did on Wednesday, though she is not sure when. The deadline for Marks to remove the signs is May 19.

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“Those two signs offer opportunity that I think we should not look beyond. I think that the two entry points into Glendive ought to say something about what Glendive has to offer,”

Paul Sturlaugson