Target Center all over again

target-center-s-mainBY ED FELIEN

The Minneapolis City Council has agreed to pay an additional $24.5 million to renovate the Target Center so Glen Taylor can charge more for admission.   Taylor is the publisher of the Star Tribune and owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves—the worst team in the NBA.  They are so bad a running joke on “Saturday Night Live” is the threat to trade someone to the Timberwolves.  Taylor won’t put any money into the team to buy good players, but he wants the City of Minneapolis to fix up the arena so he can charge more for tickets.  Glen Taylor has a brilliant business plan for the Timberwolves:  Turn our elected officials upside down and see how much of the taxpayer’s money falls out.
The Ways and Means Committee of the City Council voted four to two to approve the new beauty treatment for Taylor.  John Quincy, Elizabeth Glidden, Linea Palmisano and Blong Yang voted for the project and Lisa Bender and Andrew Johnson voted against it.   The full Council voted 11 to 2 in favor of the giveaway.  Only Lisa and Andrew voted against it.
We asked Council Member Johnson if he wanted to comment on the vote.  He said, “I believe the referendum requirement should be followed, but most of my colleagues don’t believe it’s applicable because the Target Center is owned by the city.”
Twice the citizens of Minneapolis have amended their charter to require a referendum on city funds being used for a sports stadium.  The first, Chapter 15, Section 9, says:  “any such obligations or indebtedness to be issued or incurred for any improvement, including but not limited to acquisition, development, construction or betterment, of any public building, stadium, or other capital improvement project, shall in all phases from inception to completion exceed Fifteen Million Dollars ($15,000,000.00), the Board of Estimate and Taxation shall not issue or sell any bonds or other obligations nor incur any indebtedness for such purpose without the approval of a majority of the electors voting on the question of issuing such obligations or incurring such indebtedness at a general or special election.”
In other words, if the city wants to spend more than $15 million on a public building or stadium, they have to let the voters decide the question.
Chapter 15, Section 13, says: “Putting Professional Sports Facility Financing Before the Voters.  The City of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Community Development Agency, or any city department, agency, commission, or board, shall use no city resources over $10 million dollars for the financing of professional sports facilities without the approval of a simple majority of the votes cast on the question, in a ballot question put to the public at the next regularly scheduled election.”
The charter provision makes no reference to a public or private facility.  It is quite clear.  No money more than $10 million shall go to financing a professional sports facility without the approval of the voters.
Andrew Johnson continued: “I’ll tell you why I think contributing another $24.5 million to the project was a bad idea.
“If the Council had voted no to this $24.5 million additional funding request, the renovation of the Target Center would still have moved forward under the nearly $100 million funding package passed by the Council before ours. But because of this vote, we’ll now need to redirect more than $1.2 million of sales tax revenue per year over the next 20 years into paying off the $24.5 million in additional funding, revenue which otherwise would have gone toward capital projects and economic development activities across our city. Instead of it going where it’s most needed, it will now go largely if not entirely towards the aesthetic appearance of the Target Center’s exterior, giving it a ‘cool new look’ for passersby. With a $15-20 million annual shortfall in basic road maintenance and some of the worst disparities in the nation, I believe this was the wrong choice.”
Perhaps faithful readers might remember my original critique of funding for the Timberwolves beauty treatment.  I was analyzing the budget proposal of Betsy Hodges and R T Rybak that stripped funding from the Neighborhood Revitalization Program and killed the most successful citizen participation in the nation and transferred that money to renovate Target Center:
“That money was originally earmarked for neighborhood organizations, but Mayor Rybak and then-chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Betsy Hodges, decided to let the money go straight into the city treasury. That process of bankrupting the neighborhood organizations ended with the total elimination of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program. I have written about this for years.  In October of 2012, writing about the Rybak-Hodges’ plan, I said, ‘Target Center is another drain on the taxpayer. The section of the mayor’s recommended budget that deals with the funding for the Target Center is the most convoluted and confusing description of how one fund dips into another fund that merges into a new fund, etc. But there are two statements about the center that leap off the page: “Under the special legislation, tax increment from the new district could only be used to pay principal and interest on Target Center bonds or for ‘neighborhood revitalization purposes.’  The Consolidated TIF District will generate approximately $5 million in annual net tax increment revenue in 2012 and 2013, all of which will be used for Target Center debt service.” ’
The total of $10 million [for 2012 and 2013] could have been used for ‘neighborhood revitalization purposes’ but instead is being used to renovate the home of Glen Taylor’s Timberwolves. According to the latest Forbes ranking, Glen Taylor is Number 242 on the list of the richest persons in America, with a net worth of $1.8 billion, and the Neighborhood Revitalization Program has been starved out of existence. Is that the best deal we could get with Glen Taylor? Is this the best investment in Minneapolis’ future?”

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