Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Denny Sanford…. Another Minnesota “Great”


Recently, on a flight back to Minneapolis, I was reading the Delta magazine and came across a special feature on South Dakota.  The centerpiece focused on the extraordinary generosity of Denny Sanford who endowed a major breast cancer research and treatment center.  Appropriately, it was named after his mother, Edith Sanford, who died from the devastating cancer when Denny was only four years old.

With this major gift and numbers of others including those to his beloved University of Minnesota, Denny joins the list of the wealthy who have used their assets to make transformational donations that have a lasting impact on all of us.  We are truly blessed to have Denny Sanford join Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, et al.  They are all pointing the way to responsible and meaningful wealth leadership.  Having come from modest backgrounds they know the value of giving to a society that gave them opportunity.  What a marvelous example of civic virtue.

But reading this story about Denny Sanford does not end here.  Rather it brings back some of my fondest moments when I arrived in Minneapolis to attend graduate school at the University of Minnesota and serve as a counselor at the Chi Psi Fraternity in 1958-59.  Denny Sanford was a member of that group of some fifty young men who had a lasting impact on me.

Their academic talents ranged from average to exceptional.  That would be normal for a large state university.  But what was not normal, at least from my perspective, was the number of students working their way through school, managing all the activities at the fraternity and still participating in meaningful college activities.

It slowly dawned on me that this was a group that truly understood the value of higher education and were willing to work hard to achieve their goals.

Now, as I look back, their entrepreneurial success was no surprise; they were living it every day at the University.  There was no cocooning:  just hard work, perseverance, and teamwork.

Out of that group came some remarkable successes including the founder of a major advertising agency, the world’s leading high-rise architect, doctors, professors, lawyers, dentists, business leaders, developers, and another architect who has achieved local fame for his innovative work in urban design along with a notable federal jurist who established the highest standards in ethics, common sense, and legal knowledge.  One member was an academic All American while starting on Minnesota’s 1960 National Championship football team.  He went on to a highly successful career in law and real estate.

They played lead roles during my service as Governor ranging from developing workers compensation reform to the funding of the arts.  In a sense, they defined the meaning of being a good citizen.  I think it fair to say that all of us learned from the experience of living together, working together, and ultimately, helping each other.  I know that I could never have achieved any political success without them.

But I wonder if all this were not made possible due to an affordable tuition policy at the University of Minnesota.  So many of those extraordinary students came from very average backgrounds and were able to make ends meet by working and frugally managing their finances along with the rigors of academic challenges.

I think we owe that same opportunity to our children so we can benefit from the future Denny Sanfords, etc.

Is that not what American exceptionalism is all about?
























Friday, November 18, 2011

The Stadium…. Just a Thought


Last week, I was interviewed by two excellent radio journalists, Dan Barreiro of KFAN and Gary Eichten of MPR, and, obviously, the issue of the Vikings stadium came up.

The issue of sport stadiums has been around for the past 50 years creating all the normal divisions among the public and its political system.  Some believe that the state should keep the Vikings at all costs and some take strong issue with any form of governmental assistance.

To make matters even more complicated is the fact that the conditions of yesterday are not the norms today.  The middle class has been slowly losing ground and is seriously questioning whether the American Dream will be available for their children.  The public knows we need more scientists and engineers to compete globally and not more right tackles.

While this may change the flavor of the debate, it does not deal with the possibility that we could lose the Vikings.

Our first determination has to be whether or not we consider the Vikings a state asset.  My answer is “yes”, just as I consider the Mayo Clinic, the Minnesota Orchestra, and the Duluth Port to be Minnesota assets.  They all help define our unique quality of life.

However, the times dictate a different approach.  In December, the state will announce another budgetary shortfall ranging anywhere from one-half billion to a billion dollars.  This will instantly remove the Vikings from top priority and, possibly, move the subject to 2013.

In addition, Zygi Wilf, while wealthy, is a bit light when compared to other sports owners.

Both sides would benefit from developing a true business partnership.  With that in mind, I would suggest that Wilf consider adding some Minnesota partners which would give the Vikings more capital and a Minnesota flavor which would be most helpful in easing the concerns of Minnesotans.

The Vikings have been advertising the team as a community asset.  Partial Minnesota ownership comparable to the Twins, Wild and Timberwolves will excite a broader base of Minnesotans about a true partnership.  Names like Glen Taylor, Jim and Bob Pohlad, Ralph Burnet, Stan Hubbard, Bob Naegele, are respected and known in the Minnesota communities.  The Vikings are in need of this vital ingredient.

Further, this partnership should extend to the creation of a permanent Sports Facilities Commission with not only management authority but also the responsibility for negotiating with the teams.  Since this requires legislative approval, the Governor may want to consider creating a negotiating team now with solid business and finance leaders and a minimum from the political world.

This recognizes the reality that continuing the political collisions will jeopardize success.  A buffer group of highly competent business and financial leaders would assure the public of a responsible business deal that will protect their investment as well as assist the Vikings. 

But it is important that the Governor focus on picking the best talent in order to insure a quality outcome.  This can become the blueprint for future public-private partnerships.  I would suggest the following be part of the negotiations:

1.   When the Vikings are next sold, the profits attributable to the stadium and its lease become part of the partnership assets and be divided according to contribution level.  This way the taxpayers share in the profits.

2.   There be full transparency.  I suspect that the state would utilize its bonding capacity and look toward special revenues to assist in the payments.  This may well include taxes on liquor,  tobacco,  and stadium admissions, etc.

The Vikings should also make clear where their share would come from in order to avoid any surprises.

3.   Naming rights should belong to the partnership.

4.   The issue of the possible imposition of pay TV for NFL games should be dealt with in order that the taxpayer partner not be harmed.

The overall goal is to recognize the Vikings as a statewide asset and not the responsibility of any local entity.  On the other hand, it brings the Vikings more closely into the Minnesota community.

Again, just a thought.