Thursday, December 1, 2011
Newsflash: Rich people buy things
By Kevin Seifert
I like to think I'm adequately suspicious of the uber-wealthy, and I know I'm resentful of the disproportionate public benefits their money generates for them. But here is some free advice: We all need to get a grip and stop applying those sentiments to the Minnesota Vikings' stadium situation.
News that Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and his wife recently purchased a $19 million Manhattan home has absolutely nothing to do with their request for some $630 million in public money for their suburban stadium project. It's lazy at best, and intentionally divisive at worst, to drag out the popular but inapplicable cries of outrage in questioning why Wilf's business should receive public subsidies while he buys fancy apartments across from Central Park.
Not once has Wilf or anyone associated with the Vikings claimed he can't afford to build the stadium himself. None of us know the exact nature of his wealth, but it's reasonable to assume that if he sold some stuff and moved some things and took out some loans, he and his family could come up with the money to do it.
But that's not the issue, and it never has been when it comes to public subsidies for stadiums. Wilf isn't offering to pay for the entire stadium because he doesn't have to. The market was set long ago. That ship has sailed. Precedents set around the country have called for a private contribution of less than half the total cost of the project. Moreover, there are two standing offers from Los Angeles businessmen to build stadiums at no cost to the current owner. That's business, people, not budgets.
You can question whether that's fair or right, but unfortunately that answer won't matter. The question everyone should be asking is not how much Wilf can afford or should be expected to pay, but how much you want the Vikings to stay in Minnesota. It's more than reasonable to take the position that Wilf doesn't deserve a public subsidy, as long as you accept that the team ultimately will relocate as a result. You might not like it, but that's the cost of doing business with the NFL in 2011.
You can hold Wilf's personal expenditures to all the public scrutiny you want and come up with cute #wilfare hashtags on Twitter to rile up the masses. In the end, however, it's totally irrelevant to the issue and serves as nothing more than a cheap distraction from answering the real and tough questions that remain.
If you want the NFL to remain in Minnesota, you'll have to accept that the rich really do get richer. Your choice.