Well, Pioneer Press has another story breaking - on point.
Perhaps -- Perhaps not. That's the White Knight story in a nutshell.
But in any event the recent Pioneer Press coverage has been exceptional journalism, deserving praise for thoroughness, fairness, ongoing attention, and tenacity. They report and I excerpt and editorialize. (Much easier.) This latest post is excerpting, mainly, with little or no analysis, sluthing, or editorializing - for now. But some editorializing, setting some questions that might later gain a higher profile and a sharper focus.
First, news/facts, from Pioneer Press, online - and their effort, again, is impressive:
Potential buyer for Town Center emerges
Auction of troubled project delayed again, but insurance exec is reportedly interested
BY DAVE ORRICK and NICOLE GARRISON-SPRENGER
The auction of the troubled Ramsey Town Center is at least another month away, but there could be a "Deal" afoot.
The Pioneer Press has learned that insurance executive Jim Deal has emerged as the front-runner - and favorite of senior county officials - to buy the 322-acre project [...].
But the biggest obstacle appears to be the city's love affair with its original $1.3 billion vision for the project, according to a county commissioner and a source familiar with negotiations.
Deal, who has played down any hunger to take on such an ambitious affair, has never denied his desire to see the Town Center move forward. A respected figure in the national crop insurance scene, DFL political circles and the Anoka County philanthropic arena, the 73-year-old already holds several key assets in the Town Center, including the only private commercial buildings yet constructed. He also controls exclusive banking rights to the entire area.
Ramsey Community Development Director Patrick Trudgeon denied Thursday that the city is getting in the way. The city says its original plans protect taxpayers and ensure whatever is built will benefit the entire community.
Last year, state regulators shut down a title company formed by Nedegaard and several of his financiers - executives of Community National Bank of North Branch. The title company, called Powerhouse, handled many of the Town Center transactions.
Last month, investigators with the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Postal Service executed a search warrant on the bank, which has denied any wrongdoing.
And last week, James Heisel, Nedegaard's former chief financial officer, was charged in federal court with lying to IRS criminal investigators about financing on a separate Nedegaard deal in Columbia Heights.
While the Town Center has languished, Deal has been waiting for the more than 20 banks that hold a piece of the mortgage to agree on a lower price, said Anoka County Commissioner Dan Erhart.
"Jim Deal's got a price in mind that he'd pay for the whole thing," Erhart, who has a background in real estate, said Thursday. "I don't know all the details. ... I do think the price will need to get down substantially."
Deal got his start in the agricultural insurance business as a federal government administrator of crop insurance policy in the 1950s, he told the Pioneer Press this year. In the early 1980s, he founded the NAU Group in Ramsey. By 2003, it was the seventh-largest crop insurer in America. In 2005, when Lightyear Capital, a $2 billion private equity firm, decided to invest in NAU, its chairman heaped praise on Deal and his son, Greg.
"Jim and Greg Deal are true pioneers," Donald Marron, Lightyear's chairman and CEO, said in a news release. He added, "As a result of their efforts, crop insurance became a widely accepted commercial insurance product."
Today, NAU has its headquarters in Ramsey Town Center on about 26 acres Deal bought through his commercial development company, PSD LLC, which has erected two office buildings there.
When asked last month about the company's initials, Deal responded, "That's my wife, Pamela Smart Deal. That way everyone knows who my boss is."
Deal has also said he plans to start a bank there, under the name Ideal.
He's the only one who can.
In December 2005, PSD paid Community National $200,000 plus other considerations to buy exclusive banking rights to the entire Town Center. In 2003, when Community National initially financed Nedegaard, the bank secured those rights without city officials knowing. That angered city leaders who envisioned a downtown with several banks.
Deal doesn't appear to have been a part of those early Town Center arrangements. But Curt Martinson was.
Martinson was a loan executive with Community National in 2003, when Community National initially lent Nedegaard $35 million to start the Town Center. He also had an 8.34 percent ownership in Powerhouse Title, the company shut down by the Minnesota Department of Commerce because it was operating without a license.
At some point, Martinson, who notarized the transfer of the banking rights from the bank to PSD, left Community National and went to work for Deal.
In an interview last month, Deal said they've been "good personal friends" for 25 years. The pair served on the board of Anoka-Ramsey Community College, and Martinson and Deal's wife served together on the board of Mercy and Unity Hospitals Foundation.
Martinson has declined requests for interviews.
Commissioner Erhart said a Deal purchase of the Town Center could be the best outcome.
Dave Orrick can be reached at email@example.com or 651-228-2171.
Nicole Garrison-Sprenger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-228-5580.
Business: Crop insurance pioneer; founded the NAU Group in Ramsey, one of America's biggest such insurers.
Politics: $175,250 in donations since 1998, mostly to DFL causes; founded Minnesotans for Change last year.
Ramsey Town Center: Owns about 26 acres, two office buildings and exclusive banking rights.
Well there are the immediate obvious questions - given that Developers are Crabgrass.
How many real hard capital dollars up front are being put at risk by the offeror? How much TIF is in the proposed stew? Ben Dover may be a pile of rust by the time taxes are generated from Town Center TIF, and how's that treating citizens, this year and the next five-to-fifteen years, if there's more tax-dollar spending and all those Town Center Task Force promised tax-windfall benefits do not accrue until some of us have joined ranks with the dead Bruce Nedegaards?
Rephrased: What's it going to do for anyone's taxes, tomorrow?
Better? Worse? No difference? Worse, more likely than not, except for Jim Deal's taxes. I suppose there's a bright side to everything, and taxpapers paying to make a few rich folks richer probably is not new to Ramsey. Lift a few rocks and decide for yourself.
Is it all only some feel good speculation - or real money at risk on the table? Will there be a suppressed report on whether the new guy can hack it, (as Ms. Sakry quoted James Norman on reports about the last guy, dead Nedegaard).
A picture - Is this the Ramsey Office Plaza - Jim Deal's deal, AND IS IT TIF'ED? Note Ben on the picture, watching things at this place too. I think the one other office building just showing up in the background is the NAU Insurance thing, (I don't have a handy picture of it) so this must be Deal's plaza.
According to PiPress, Deal's involved in both, and the NAU is his crop insurance operation. If I have my facts straight, at least one Ramsey Planning Commission member is a part of the crop insurance workforce. That's a best understanding, not a pinned down fact. It might be with another crop insurance venturer, but how many of those are in Ramsey - Anoka County - where the main green acres "crop" is and for sometime has been development dollars.
And the guy holds an exclusive on banking rights for the entire site? When, how did that come about? Anyone know where in city minutes and records online that such a fact is presented? Who sold him that besides some guy who won't speak to the press and went to work for Deal after the sale? What did he pay the city, and who had the right to be giving exclusive franchises for any such thing other than the City of Ramsey? What did the City get in return from Mr. Deal? A salute and a thank you, or something you can take to the bank - his bank, if onsite at Town Center???
AND IS IT TIF'ED???? TIF and mirrors?
Death and Taxes.
Ben again. The myth of the rooftops - how it was going to be a tax bonanza, you remember that, don't you? Then - a ramp -- no tax cash flow benefit -- a city hall -- ditto -- now, the medical examiner - morgue. At least a morgue for Town Center, that's appropriate. But - how many tax dollars is that hummer going to generate to lessen the burden on you and Ben? Zilch? Or is there something we don't know about this public facility, making it different from the neighboring two? Doubtful, at best.
It will have to be named dead-beat row, for all the tax money it generates to lessen the burden on citizens. Sure a modern facility for a county medical examiner is good, sure there's land enough for now at Town Center for almost anything - even jobs - sites producing jobs as the Deal Office Plaza may do.
But TIF and public edifices - zilch benefit on lessening the tax burden on homeowners. Watch out and speak up to protect yourselves.
Closing note - a specific email address, where people with ideas, information on TIF in Town Center, information on suppressed reports, any news - where such people can send an email for suggesting a post or a place to lift rocks or dig for skeletons:
I opened that webmail account months ago, and will dedicate that address for Crabgrass Correspondence. Please help. Please share your ideas and worries.
Finally in closing, an excerpt from a prior post, in honor of someone holding "an exclusive franchise" for banking at the Town Center when only the City can license businesses in the City:
Actually, it is on sale, online and for only $45. A relative bargain, you can own the HAPPY CLOWN mechanical Bank. 8” tall plastic clown. You might not be able to buy it in any shop in Ramsey, from Ramsey Blvd. to Armstrong.
The website says, "Button on back of his head. When coin is placed in slot between his shoulder, then you push button, coin deposits and he sticks his tongue out. 1950’s vintage, no maker mark. Excellent condition, some paint wear around his name at base. MISSING the coin trap on the bottom side. 45.00" See the tongue, stuck out:
At least with this clown, you put your money into the little hummer, you center it between the shoulders, and at least you then have money in the bank that stays around. Not in some hare-brained scheme, not in some crabgrass pocket while getting a tongue-wagging response.
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Why does this seem relevant, and why is Ben Dover, the Ramsey taxpayer, smiling?