The high likelihood that Zygi Wilf’s dream of a taxpayer-funded stadium will go to the legislature next month amid still-growing protests against the immunities of gilded wealth is almost … almost … enough for me to feel sympathy for the guy. I interviewed him last summer for a magazine piece and — major news flash here — the development around his Arden Hills plan is everything. Zygi, who by the way does have a sense of humor and occasional flashes a side other than the highly disciplined business automaton, is first, second, third and probably fourth through twentieth a developer. After that he’s a football fan.
Wilf owns the Vikings because falling in with the loony Reggie Fowler scheme gave him access to assurances that the state’s political leaders — if that’s what you dare call Tim Pawlenty — would throw their weight behind something for the Vikings once the Twins had their deal done. Shockingly, Pawlenty kept spooning out the bullshit even as he left office, dropping the stadium ball (and everything else) in the next guy’s lap.
The next guy, Mark Dayton, may not be the slickest operator around. But like any politician with a head for the twists of history he knows with some certainty that no matter how much caterwauling and venom ricochets around prior to the deal getting done, the guy in office at the time the damned thing is built is a hero among the sports hagiographers — crusty old sports columnists, radio jocks with hundreds of hours to burn and fat cat sources to fellate with at least intermittent enthusiasm — when the gates open and the gawking public takes their $150 seats.
But this is 2011, and nothing at all like 2006. Five years post-bubble, as we see now in virtually every city of the western world, people, some maybe even pro football fans, are demonstrating that they are not only hip to the fixed game if casino-style financialization and the client-employee relationship between Wall St. and DC, but they’ve had enough of it. Damn it, and thank you.
So here’s Zygi, as I say, a pleasant enough guy who followed in his Holocaust-survivor father’s footsteps (the old man is still alive and sharp) and built quite a nice business for himself. He was thinking he’d do a bit more business in Minnesota by throwing up some shops and hotels around this football team he happens to own. Having done his savvy developer homework prior to buying in to the Vikings Wilf had every reason to believe that his Minnesota adventure would go down pretty much like every other owner’s (save a notable few), with the local fan base rallying/shaming their politicians into jacking up common rube taxes to have something as pretty from the Good Year blimp as they have in Denver and Dallas and Phoenix.
But no. Instead, Zygi has to figure out a way for an oddball DFL governor to lead the pro-tax charge … in the face of a $5 billion deficit that wasn’t really resolved last year, another deficit projected for this year, and while surrounded by Tea Party anti-tax zealots who might normally consent to a small-ish tax on the rabble if it meant protecting the plutocrats probably won’t dare pull anything like that in an election year, what with this “Occupy” crap going on and their approval ratings already in the toilet.
I loved the bit the other day from the state’s GOP leadership, demanding that Dayton guarantee X-number of DFL pro-tax votes to give the Republicans cover in exchange for them voting pro-tax. Christ. But you gotta give ‘em points for their craven candor.
Dayton’s argument will of course be that a billion-dollar stadium is a hell of a lot jobs when the construction industry is in a depression. But the obvious — and certain to very loud rejoinder to that argument — is that there is no end of heavy-duty infrastructure work that needs to be done around the metro, if not the state, that would put the same crews to work and return far greater value to the broader public — small businesses, big businesses and private citizens — than (another) football stadium. Moreover, where the anti-tax zealots are forever shrieking that the government doesn’t have the assets to fund … schools, roads, bridges, you name it … the Vikings have an entity with ample resources to — at the very least — loan them the cash to build the stadium. And by that I mean of course the NFL. (One of their former Goldman Sachs suits was in town earlier this week pressuring Dayton to, you know, move the ball up the field, taxpayer-wise.)
It would of course be a terrible precedent, a fabulously profitable sports league, underwriting capital investments in its network of teams. But I suspect the NFL’s credit rating is better than Minnesota’s, and what with TV networks willing to pay virtually any figure the league lays down when it comes time for their next TV contract, collateral would hardly be a problem.
I know the Kurt Zellers and Amy Kochs of the world profess to be confused by this OccupyWall Street/Minnesota/Duluth/Berlin/London nuttiness. “Why do they hate the job creators”? But wait and see what happens in St. Paul if this stadium tax thing looks like it has legs.