Pohlad doesn’t need our money

Every time you pick up a newspaper these days there’s a story about the proposal for a new Twins stadium. Should it be paid for with cigarette tax revenue, gambling revenue or from taxes on sports paraphernalia? No one can agree. There’s talk of behind-the-scenes dealing and arm twisting. The whole thing is getting out of control.
We need to settle down, take a deep breath and think about what we’re actually contemplating.
The bottom line is that Twins owner Carl Pohlad wants a new, retractable-roof stadium, which will cost around $425 million. He’s offered to kick in $15 million for it. The state would pick up the balance and, in turn, be given 49 percent of the team. There would be no guarantee that even with the new stadium the Twins would stay in Minnesota.
What is there to debate?
First of all, if the Twin Cities will just evaporate without outdoor baseball, why did we tear down the Met Stadium? It seemed perfectly fine to me, but someone decided it wasn’t good enough. Beside, if you love outdoor baseball, why not go to a St. Paul Saints game? I’ve spent many an evening rooting for the Saints, joining in the cheers and stuffing my face with nachos and beer — it’s great, no denying it. And guess what? It doesn’t cost $400 million.
Second, what’s with Pohlad and this offer of $15 million? He’s reportedly worth $1 billion.
Let’s think about that one. Fifteen million dollars is 1.5 percent of what he’s worth. Let’s say I was worth $10,000. (Of course, I’m not. Even if I sold everything I owned, including my car, I could come up with maybe $5,000. But then there are my student loans that put me thousands of dollars in debt.) Anyway, if I was worth $10,000, a $150 investment of mine (1.5 percent of my worth) would be equal to a $15 million investment by Pohlad. Suddenly $15 million doesn’t sound like so much money, does it?
But the state told Pohlad to kick in $50 million and he balked. Give me a break.
Then there’s the issue of ownership. Under the current plan, the state would get only 49 percent of the team. Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, introduced a bill that would authorize the state to spend up to $100 million to buy the team — not to build a new stadium.
While that may not be the best solution, it at least addresses the issue of stability. How can we even think about spending hundreds of millions of dollars for a stadium we’re not even sure will be used? What if the state demanded a 2 percent shift in the deal — so we’d get 51 percent and Pohlad would get the 49 percent?
Dealing with Carl Pohlad seems like a fairly risky endeavor. Did everyone catch the huge story about him in the Star Tribune on Sunday, April 20? Incredible.
According to the article, which took up more than two full pages, Pohlad has a less-than-sparkling record in terms of how he’s treated his past business partners.
For example, in 1964, when Pohlad was running Marquette Bank, he and other bankers pleaded no contest to charges of rate fixing.
Then in 1969, when Pohlad was chairman of a company that was running the Twin Cities transit system, he asked state regulators to approve a fare increase. They were skeptical since the system was making a profit. But they approved it, and Pohlad and his partners then took $4 million out of the bus system to buy an airline.
And shareholders in one of Pohlad’s companies, MEI Diversified Inc., said Pohlad painted an unrealistically flattering picture of the company before declaring it bankrupt in 1993 and selling off millions in assets to his sons’ companies. The shareholders eventually got $5 million in a settlement.
The list goes on and on. And this time, the state’s taxpayers are the ones that stand to get screwed over.
But wait, some might be saying, the current stadium proposals don’t really call for taxpayers’ money. The revenue would be generated from other sources.
Well, yes and no.
Let’s look at the recent proposal of allowing slot machines and blackjack tables at Canterbury Downs and using revenue from that for the stadium. (Gov. Arne Carlson used to be against expanding gambling, but recently he had a change of heart.) Another proposal calls for a new casino near the Mall of America on publicly owned land, and the revenues would be poured into a stadium.
Sure, that would be money the state didn’t have access to before, but that doesn’t mean we have to use it for a stadium.
For starters, citizens should have a say in whether or not gambling is expanded in this state, and we should look at what that would mean to the Native American-run casinos. This shouldn’t be something we just jump into because we’re hot for a stadium. If we do decide expanded gambling is acceptable, we should next decide where that money could best be spent.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: There are a lot of problems in this state that need fixing. No one wants to throw money at programs that aren’t working, but it makes sense to spend money on things like literacy and potholes before we go for luxury items like a stadium with a sunroof.
Let’s say a family of four (a dad, a mom and two kids) has certain things it must pay for; maybe one of the kids needs tutoring in math, the other needs braces, and the house needs insulation. But they’ve always longed for a swimming pool in the backyard. Both parents are working, and then dad also gets a part-time job nights and weekends. Should that new money go for the tutor, the braces and the insulation, or should it go for a pool? It’s really not a very complicated decision.
But of course, that swimming pool wouldn’t generate money for the family, and stadium boosters (including Star Tribune parent company Cowles Media) say the new ballpark will create jobs and revenue for the state — 168 full-time jobs and 400 construction (temporary) jobs.
But Allen Sanderson, a University of Chicago sports economist, told the Strib that if someone took the money the state was going to spend on the stadium and dropped it out of a helicopter over the Twin Cities, “you would probably create eight to 10 times as many jobs.”
He added that most people who go to Twins games are from the metro area and simply go home when the fun’s over instead of grabbing dinner at downtown restaurants. Even if they do go out to eat, it’s just money that would have gone to a local grocery store. And, he said, buying tickets to games might simply mean people are foregoing a movie or trip to the mall; the money’s going to different outlets, there’s not actually more being spent in the state.
None of the current debate even starts to deal with the Vikings. Should we honor their request and build a $500 million dual-purpose stadium for the two teams to share? Or should we give them $158 million to spruce up the Dome?
But wait, St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman wants a new hockey arena. He says the state should kick in $65 million, the city should pay $30 million and hockey investors should come up with $35 million. Stop the insanity!
Unless the state can be assured the Twins will stick around, we shouldn’t be talking public financing at all. And unless Pohlad steps up to the plate and agrees to pay a reasonable share, we shouldn’t talk about playing ball with him. And clearly there are better uses for our taxes.
So maybe the Twins will end up leaving the state. How much will that really affect our lives? After all, they’re just a bunch of guys we don’t know, who have no loyalty to Minnesota and who go on strike when they can’t agree how they should divide their millions. How would we get along without them?

Kris Henry’s column appears in the Daily every Thursday. She welcomes comments via e-mail at [email protected]
Letters to the Editor can be mailed to [email protected]