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Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Stadium Swindle Runs Into Cost Overruns and Snags Already

It's interesting that Stadium boosters Mike Opat and Mark Stenglein seem to be at odds. From the strib.

Richard Pogin, chief financial officer of Investment Management Inc., which represents the property owners, said Friday that the county has budgeted a maximum of $13.5 million to buy the site, which he said is far below its fair market value. County officials have declined to make public what they have offered, though county records list the property's assessed value at $8.37 million.

As a Jan. 22 court date over the condemnation proceedings approaches, a war of words has begun over whether the project could be scuttled.

The first salvo was fired a week ago when Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, the lead stadium negotiator on the County Board, was quoted in the Star Tribune as saying the project was being jeopardized and Jerry Bell, the Twins stadium negotiator, said the land owners were being "stubborn" and "getting greedy."What's been said is so far from the truth as to be absurd. It's just reckless," Pogin said Friday. "If it wasn't tragic, it would really be funny."

The two sides have traded barbs even as Investment Management president Bruce Lambrecht, who has had personal and political ties to Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein, attended a swearing-in ceremony Tuesday for county officials, including Opat and Stenglein. Opat said he and Lambrecht briefly discussed the property-sale stalemate at the ceremony.

This part is interesting.

In a sign of the importance of reaching a solution, Pogin said both Lambrecht and Opat would for the first time take part in negotiations on Monday. In a letter to the editor in today's Star Tribune, Pogin and Lambrecht take exception to the comments by Opat and Bell. "Are those who smeared us unwilling to pay fair market value for our property?" the letter asks.

Even with the negotiations reaching a sensitive point, Lambrecht said he was not uncomfortable attending the swearing-in ceremony. Lambrecht, who once leased Stenglein office space during Stenglein's mayoral campaign in 2001, said he and his wife were invited to the ceremony by Rich Stanek, the newly elected county sheriff, whom he said he had also politically supported.

Rich Stanek and Mark Stenglein were joined at the hip with campaigns this past fall.

Stenglein said that when the county filed for condemnation two months ago, Lambrecht said to him, "God, Stenglein, you guys are condemning our livelihood." Stenglein said that while he often talks to Lambrecht, he has stayed away from discussing the land negotiations.


'Totally distracting'

Lambrecht downplayed the significance of his attending the ceremony. "I think it's totally distracting [and] gets into the whole connecting-the-dots thing," Lambrecht said. "I think I talk to everybody when I see people."

Opat agreed. "I said hello, as I always do. I like Bruce," he said. Opat said he briefly talked to Lambrecht about the negotiations at the ceremony, telling him that "we should sit down and figure it out."

Lambrecht played a huge role in Stenglein's mayoral campaign - and leased office space to him. You can also connect the dots to Governor Pawlenty of Tax Increases:

When Stenglein ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Minneapolis in 2001, Lambrecht was an influential member of his campaign - holding a fundraiser for Stenglein at Lambrecht's home and leasing office space to the Stenglein campaign. Lambrecht, according to Hennepin County Commissioner Penny Steele, an opponent of the stadium plan, helped recruit Stenglein to run for mayor and was "probably one of his best friends." Stenglein's campaign manager during that race, Brian McClung, later worked as a lobbyist for Twinsville Inc., a company used by Lambrecht to help promote the stadium and a redevelopment plan for the surrounding area. McClung now serves as Gov. Tim Pawlenty's spokesman. (Source: May 29, 2005, Sunday, Metro Edition
Stadium vote puts friendship in focus)

From today's article:

Pogin and Lambrecht formally responded to Opat and Bell's comments in writing, saying that the county was underestimating the land's value and that the property owners were looking forward to condemnation proceedings because a court would affirm that belief.

A $90 million limit by law

Pogin also said the legislation authorizing the downtown Minneapolis ballpark had in effect financially handcuffed the county: The county's total infrastructure budget for the project, which includes property acquisition, is capped by law at $90 million. So the more money the county spends to buy the land, he said, the less it has for the soil remediation, roads and bridge work and other infrastructure projects that are necessary at the site.

"I'm certainly not optimistic a deal's going to be done" unless the condemnation moves forward, Pogin said.

Opat all but confirmed the county's dilemma in an interview Friday. "We will not sacrifice public infrastructure to unduly enrich the landowners," he said. Opat also suggested that the county may not pursue condemnation -- an indirect acknowledgment that the county may be wary of its outcome.

Mike Opat has egg on his face. So does Mark Stenglein. Lambrecht is laughing all the way to the bank.

Here's my question though: why don't the Twins step up to the plate and deal with the cost overruns? Why should this be county responsibility?