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Monday, August 30, 2010

Stakes high in St. Paul Port Authority lawsuit

Please click onto the COMMENTS for the story.
I added an addition to this topic in the COMMENT section folks. "Robbing Peter to pay Saint Paul" good story from the Institute of Justice.


Anonymous Pioneer Press said...

Investors' case dating to 1980s building bust could cripple agency
By Dave Orrick
Updated: 08/29/2010 09:38:29 PM CDT

The fund started 45 years ago. Its investments went bust 20 years ago. Scraps have been sold off at a loss. And the legal battle that began six years ago is about to fire up again today in a Ramsey County courtroom — with potential ramifications for St. Paul taxpayers.

Today, attorneys for the St. Paul Port Authority will square off against attorneys for some 50 investors in a Port Authority fund still reeling from the building boom-bust of the 1980s.

Investors say they're owed tens of millions of dollars the Port Authority improperly diverted from them — and they've won a string of legal victories in the past year.

The Port Authority says if the investors win their lawsuit asking for that money, the agency will be left in a Catch 22: nowhere to go but for a tax hike that's prohibited by state law.

"They made a bad investment for which they are responsible, and now they are looking for a bailout," Port Authority President Louis Jambois said in an interview. He said the Port Authority has offered a way for the investors to recoup between 65 cents and 85 cents on the dollar.

That offer isn't good enough, according to Keith Broady, an attorney for the investors, because that offer allows the Port Authority to renege on its original promise to investors.

"We just want them to honor the contract the way it was agreed on," he said.

The investors' lawsuit demands the entire amount owed to them, some $51.6 million plus several million in interest to date — a figure both sides agree on.

Today, Broady will ask Ramsey County Judge Robert A. Awsumb to essentially extend a temporary restraining order he granted earlier in the month that traps several potential revenue streams for the Port Authority — including its barge shipping fees and potential proceeds from land sales — and places them into the fund for the investors.

Attorneys for the Port Authority will ask Awsumb essentially to throw the whole case out.

The dispute is as complex as it is old, with both sides attempting to decipher a 1974 agreement, which everyone involved agrees has unique investing quirks. And as the investors invoke portions of that agreement, the Port Authority counters with other portions, as well as state statutes that they say prohibit them from doing what the investors demand.

The whole thing is about what's known — in the dry language that typifies municipal finance-speak — as simply "the 876 Fund." That's the fund that is supposed to pay investors but has been insolvent since 1991, according to the Port Authority.

Tax-exempt loans tied to the fund helped finance a host of projects — 139 in all — from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, including the commercial building boom of the 1980s. Such projects are scattered throughout St. Paul today, from much of the Energy Park development in the Como Park neighborhood to Landmark Towers, the downtown building where the Port Authority is headquartered.

For years, the fund appeared to be a success because it brought in revenue and achieved the Port Authority's goal of kick-starting investment. But the rush to build led to overbuilding, and many of the projects temporarily went belly-up, forcing the Port Authority to possess the properties and sell them off at a loss. Therefore, the 876 Fund didn't have the funds investors had planned on.

The backup for the 876 Fund was the Port Authority's core assets and functions: operating the harbor along the Mississippi River to support commercial shipping. Its guarantees, Port Authority officials emphasize, stopped short of backing up the fund with the Port Authority's power to levy property taxes in St. Paul.

8:15 AM  
Anonymous story conclusion said...

By 1991, the fund was insolvent, and even the backup wasn't enough to ever pay out what was owed, according to the Port Authority. The agency began to retire the debt in several different ways, including maneuvers in 2002 and 2004 that were approved by local judges.

However, the Port Authority also began to pay the costs of managing the fund from the fund itself, and began to siphon off a portion of its barge-shipping revenue to pay for maintenance of its harbors and barge channels.

Broady and his investors contend this was a violation because all that money was due to the investors. The Port Authority disagrees.

In 2006, the Port Authority tried to unload the debt from the 876 Fund once and for all. This time, some 50 investors (of more than 2,500 total) who control some 20 percent of the debt, objected and fought the Port Authority in court. (The lawsuit seeks to repay all 2,700 investors equally.)

Last year, the Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously ruled in the investors' favor on several key issues, and since then, the 2002 and 2004 actions have been overturned.

Momentum has shifted to the investors' favor enough that Port Authority officials were unwilling to make any predictions on their chances before Judge Awsumb.

The lawsuit seeks to place a host of Port Authority assets and finances in receivership, but it wouldn't affect all of the agency's assets. For example, the site of the former 3M campus on the city's East Side, as well as other properties purchased via funding mechanisms separate from the 876 Fund, could not be seized. Port Authority officials also said they don't believe their $3 million annual operating budget would be compromised to the point of, say, not making payroll.

But Jambois and other senior Port Authority officials say that the lawsuit's ultimate demand — that all the money be repaid sooner or later — is impossible. Interest on the debt outstrips the 876 Fund's revenue by more than $1 million a year. Like a credit card customer never able to make even the minimum payment, the agency would be making "perpetual payments" to the investors, according to an agency briefing.

"What they now seek is a permanent annuity payment from public property," the paper says. Jambois said the only way the Port Authority could ever come up with enough money to get out from the debt would be to levy property taxes — but he said raising taxes for such a purpose would violate state law.

Broady said Jambois' characterization is an overstatement. He said the Port Authority has never provided investors with a full accounting of how much money has been siphoned off over the years. It might be enough, he said — if the money can somehow be recaptured. He scoffed at the notion that his clients are trying to extort a perpetual payout.

"People are not getting rich on this," he said.

8:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The biggest one I know about was the Hill Plaza by Selby and Western. They sunk many millions into it as a success machine. It failed and sold for pennies to rich Ted Glassrud who got a lot richer.

11:04 AM  
Anonymous 699Conway v 697 Surrey said...

How about the 699 Conway Historic Burger Home across from 697 Surrey
Sharons Fight4ForensicFiles
or use in a different thread

Sharon tried to buy 699 Conway years ago but Cops,FireFighters,Teachers are given special prioritys,tax breaks etc. Over and above the Tax Payers Rights

12:09 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

12:09 PM or --->Sharon,

I was one of the first people here to suggest the city come up with a plan to offer incentives to police officers who were willing to move from the burbs to red zones of the city.

A visible police presence in a neighborhood reduces crime and builds community relations with the police department.

Later, the mayor came out with all these other offerings to fire, nurses and anyone else that may win him votes.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

Robbing Peter to pay Saint Paul!


Bunch of scumbags over there at the Port Authority! We couldn't expect anything less than this from the lowest common denominator of dirty DFL politics in Saint Paul.

12:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

could some one tell me about the Democratic Party in St.Paul, and who to vote for?

a voter

8:57 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

We have some good democrats here, they don't speak up in fear of being ostracized.

9:41 AM  

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