The New York Times’ Michael Powell makes Minnesotans look like suckers in his I-had-to-see-for-myself column in his newspaper today.
Powell visited Minneapolis to see the taxpayer-funded palace being built for Zygi Wilf and his Minnesota Vikings.
There’s not a lot of “new” in the column — the Vikings put one over on Gov. Dayton by controlling almost all weekends at “the people’s stadium,” the Wilf family gets the money while the public pays the upkeep, and local officials were out of their league when it came to cutting a deal with the NFL — but it showed that the stadium put Minneapolis in the national spotlight where it wanted to be, just not for what it wanted to be in it for.
A former city councilman, Gary Schiff, led stadium opposition and lost by a single vote in May 2012. “The N.F.L. has really improved its game and they never give up,” he said. “That was one of the worst deals ever for the public.”
A year later, a not so small grenade exploded in New Jersey. Superior Court Judge Deanne M. Wilson presided over a civil trial examining a Wilf real estate partnership. She released an “Iliad”-length verbal decision over many days in which she found that the Wilfs had lied, deceived and falsified financial accountings.
She awarded $84.5 million to the Wilfs’ partners. With legal fees, the Wilfs face charges of more than $100 million.
The Wilfs, who view litigation as blood sport, appealed. Their lawyer, Peter Harvey, is a former New Jersey attorney general. He got on the phone with me and laughed. He divines many problems with Judge Wilson’s decision, including his as yet unproven charges of conflict of interest by the judge.
It’s just an “opinion,” he told me.
I replied that a court “opinion” gave us a president in 2000.
The judge’s ruling shook Minnesota’s political class. Dayton expressed “deep concern.” The sports authority asked its green visor sorts to examine the financing.
Carlson, the former governor, is astonished at their astonishment. “What’s stunning is that we did no due diligence,” he said. “A bank always does due diligence. And the most obvious question is: Are there lawsuits pending?” The New Jersey trial, with the accusations that the Wilfs had “looted funds” from their partners, had run, replete with press coverage, throughout the debate over the stadium financing. As for the Wilfs? They retained exclusive naming rights for the stadium, worth perhaps $400 million. They got those seat licenses that the governor opposed, worth $100 million. The city is building 1,400 parking spaces for the Vikings.
And when construction firms needed to dump their dirt? The Wilfs let them use a vacant lot that they own — provided that the sports authority agree to pay its property taxes, which it did. The Vikings franchise value has nosed above $1 billion.
“These teams keep saying, ‘Pay for our stadiums or we’ll leave,’ ” Carlson said. “Well, the time has come for people to say, ‘Leave.’ ”
As if politicians will let that happen. To be an N.F.L. owner is glorious indeed.