Would you give $45,000 to someone who helped you earn $30 million? Let's answer that question with another question: Is Norm Coleman a politician?
Last week, the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press reported that the Frauenshuh Companies has agreed to sell the Lawson Commons building in downtown St. Paul to Dallas developer Behringer Harvard for $84.5 million. The upshot of this seemingly benign real estate transaction is that St. Paul taxpayers have subsidized a $30 million windfall for a development company with intimate financial ties to Senator Coleman.
A quick recap of the details: In 1997, in order to lure Lawson Software away from Minneapolis, the then-St. Paul mayor orchestrated a plan to spend more than $100 million on a new 13-story office tower for the company. Three years later, as a means to offset part of the municipal debt incurred from the project, the city turned around and sold the building to developer Frauenshuh Companies. Price tag? $54.7 million. For inexplicable reasons, the building had supposedly lost nearly half its value in less than a decade.
Or had it? Five years later--with the downtown St. Paul office market in dreadful shape (the vacancy rate has been more than 20 percent for years)--the $84.5 million selling price reflects a surprising appreciation of some $30 million, or more than 50 percent.
The big winner in this real estate hustle is, of course, David Frauenshuh, chief executive officer of Frauenshuh Companies. But another person has benefited tremendously from Frauenshuh's windfall: Norm Coleman.
The developer has become one of the now-U.S. senator's most generous political patrons. Frauenshuh has contributed a whopping $45,000 to Norm-related causes since 2002, according to Federal Election Commission records. His family members have been awfully benevolent as well. Wife Sandra (whose occupation is listed as "homemaker") chipped in another $4,000, as did son Matthew (a "student").
Of course all of this money didn't go directly toward Norm's '08 election fund. That would violate FEC restrictions on political donations. Instead Frauenshuh has sloshed the funds around to various fundraising operations that aren't governed by such strict limitations.
The big losers in this deal have been the taxpayers of St. Paul, who ponied up the money for this boondoggle. Perhaps they should form their own fundraising operation and hit the Frauenshuh family up for a few donations.