Occupy Arden Hills!

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.

24 Responses

  1. If Dayton can’t deliver, Zygi might have to see if the Love Boat is still available for rent. It might be his ticket to L.A.

  2. Perhaps a 9% poll tax on the other 99%? “9-99.”

  3. Cosmic! 99 divided by 9 is 11. Eleven. Get it? Eleven players on the football field in 2011. Oooh, oooh, oooh!!!

  4. So are you for the stadium or against it?

    • Allow me to be more explicit. As with any private enterprise, I have no issues whatsoever with them negotiating a deal with sellers and vendors to improve their infrastructure. Lots of companies need better space. If Mr. Wilf with or without his extremely well-heeled confederates at the National Football League want to buy land and build a fabulous new facility, they should arrange private financing and do it — and presumably pass on the cost of that process to their customers. I believe that is well within the Great American Capitalist tradition, right? (For the moment we’ll ignore all the tax loopholes, depreciation subsidies, tax increment financing, etc. that big, influential firms always seek before committing to a specific site.)

      • So you agree with the Republicans and many Democrats that this stadium should not be funded by public tax dollars?

      • Given the state’s current predicament — aggravated by the outrageously cynical “performance” of Tim Pawlenty — I agree with those saying taxpayer funding of this project is highly inappropriate.

  5. What was the magazine piece, where can we read it?

    You’re sweating Brian.

    • Erik, I enjoy your participation in these little e-confabs. But I gotta say, you’re at your best when aiming your sharp wit and intellect at the issue at hand, rather than personally attacking the messenger.

      • Wha? Too rowdy? Think of it as the camaraderie of good towel snap. And I’m quite sure BL feels the same, because he’s been fond of using the ‘you’re sweating’ line in this venue.

        Nonetheless, I’m sure there’s a point to be taken by me.

      • Personal preference by me, not a formal Rowdy regulation. Applies to lots of us, not just you. Take or leave…

  6. The Vikes are gone. This stadium won’t happen. Everyone, turn your thoughts and attention to the Gophers – the new game in town.

  7. Pawlenty and Dayton essentially had the same stadium position: a) they wanted to keep the Vikings and b) they believed a new stadium was needed to keep the Vikings viable. But while Pawlenty hid under the desk and tried to push the mess off onto someone else, Dayton is stepping up to lead with his own specific proposal, at great political peril.

    Whatever you think of the stadium issue, it’s an interesting study of two very different types of leadership styles.

    • Joe,

      Pawlenty signed bills that provided a new Twins Stadium and a Gopher’s stadium. Let’s get real, he wasn’t exactly hiding under his desk. The Vikings had opportunities in the northern suburbs that they burned when they thought they could get a better deal in Minneapolis.

      • Over eight years of debate on this issue, I don’t remember Governor Pawlenty ever offering a Vikings Stadium financing proposal, as Dayton is doing. I don’t remember Pawlenty ever saying that he supported anyone else’s financing plan. I only remember stuff like this when rejecting others’ Vikings stadium financing proposals:

        “Pawlenty said that while he is open to new ideas he reiterated: “We’re not going to be raising or dealing with state taxes to subsidize that.”

        That approach effectively meant that Pawlenty was hiding under the desk and passing the buck to the next guy.

    • Not wanting to use tax payer dollars for what the Vikings want is hiding under a desk? If Pawlenty had spent time working on Vikings finance plans this “crowd” would be admonishihng him for doing that instead of somethinge else. Again, two stadiums wasn’t enough?

      • Mike: I have no end of beefs with how Pawlenty handled the state’s business, but specific to this discussion is him perpetually leading Wilf on to believe that eventually the state would underwrite his stadium. Zygi is obviously a big boy and by now has learned to live with jive talk and empty promises. But would it have been so difficult for Pawlenty — as the economy was melting down and he was piling up record deficits — to tell Wilf, “Sorry, Zyg, it ain’t going to happen on my watch”?

  8. Joe: True enough.The irony is that Pawlenty hid out amid a robust (bubble-driven) economy, while Dayton is acceding amid very serious revenue issues. Also … whatever the state/county uses up to subsidize the stadium is money it won’t have to spend on … roads, bridges, schools. And as for easy casino cash — there’s no (good) reason that potential pool couldn’t be directed instead to broader infrastructure needs. Somehow “casino” now equals “stadium”.

  9. Its easy to forget that there’s no impediment to Zigster building his own stadium. None. And in the “Great American Capitalist tradition” (nice turn of phrase) and Zigster’s deep pockets, surely there must be some kind of financing plan that could be designed to have some other well-heeled corporate folks foot a big portion of the bill. Snark aside, a “Top 1% Bond” that the Vikings could sell to great captains of industry (the Top 1%), Indian tribes, with a decent ROI and naming and suite rights is one idea. Of course, if these beautiful stadiums were actually worth the investment, someone would have thought of an idea like that a long time ago, right?

    At the end of the day there’s a lack of creativity here – personally, I like the idea of a public stock offering – ala the Packers…

  10. See “Robert Kraft” and the “New England Patriots”….Mr. Kraft, after threatening to move the team to Connecticut (yes, it is still technically part of New England), stepped up to the plate (sorry to mix sports metaphors), and funded his own stadium, sold the naming rights and built a fairly successful franchise. The compromise was that the state helped fix and build the infrastructure (roads and bridges) around the stadium to accomodate the new facility. Then The Patriots built Patriot Place, a retail Mall and restaurant venue and the Patriots Hall of Fame…conspicious consumption and capitalism run amok…and by all accounts, The Krafts are heroes in these parts and doing pretty well financially, too.

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