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Is Norm Green Really to Blame for the North Stars Leaving?

posted May 9, 2019, 10:53 AM by Dan Whenesota   [ updated Jul 17, 2019, 2:49 PM ]
This should go over well. 

What if I told you that the North Stars moving may not have been Norm Green’s fault?    (That will be the teaser for my ESPN 30 for 30 trailer) 

Just mentioning his name to any Minnesota sports fan will most likely elicit an enthusiastic “NORM SUCKS!”.  He will forever be remembered (and hated) for moving the North Stars.  That fact is well known.   However, from what I’ve learned doing research for this project and even speaking to Lou Nanne himself, it may not be Norm’s fault. 

First, don’t kill the messenger.  I love the North Stars as much as anyone.  I spent a lot of time at Met Center as a kid.  When I started down this rabbit hole, I hated Norm Green as much as you, and still do.  In researching North Stars history, I expected to find evidence to blame Norm.  But when the facts you find while researching do not support your narrative, you have to change the narrative.

Norm owned the North Stars, but not Met Center.  That was owned by the Metropolitan Sports Commission.  At the time this all started, the Met Center was 20 years old and needed some upgrades for the North Stars to be able to make enough money and keep the team afloat.  The Gund brothers (who owned the team from 1978 – 1990) tried many times to get the Metropolitan Sports Commission to add improvements to the Met Center and were told ‘no’ at every turn.  At one point the Gund brothers even paid for some of the improvements themselves.  When Norm bought the team, nothing changed.  He was hoping to make improvements but was also told ‘no’ many times.  The reason?  The Metropolitan Sports Commission was trying to force the North Stars to move downtown Minneapolis.  But the Gunds had already tried that.  They sent Lou Nanne to negotiate with the Timberwolves' owners to play at Target Center, but they couldn’t come to an agreement over advertising.  Without advertising revenue, moving downtown wouldn’t have improved the situation any more than staying at Met Center.  Without the improvements at Met Center, the North Stars would not have been able to stay afloat financially.  Rather than letting the franchise go under, Norm moved the team.

Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely not trying to make Norm Green out to be a hero.  He’s not.  He sucks.  I have 2 (yes 2) T-shirts that say so.  It sounds like he wasn’t the nicest person.  He was difficult to work with and very stubborn.  There were even rumors of inappropriate behavior towards some of his female employees.  Just like Art Modell will always be hated in Cleveland, (whether he was justified moving the Browns or not) Norm Green will always be hated here.  But the truth is, he had no choice. 

If Norm isn’t to blame, then who? 

The more I looked into it, every road led to the Metropolitan Sports Commission (aka Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, aka the Metrodome Commission).  The commission is definitely an enigma.  Trying to find specific information on them isn’t easy.  They were formed by the state legislature in 1977 to oversee sports venues.  They owned the Metrodome and Met Center.  Although it isn’t entirely clear to me how they came to own the Met Center which was built 10 years before the committee was even formed.  Lou Nanne suggested it was some sort of deal where it was turned over for $1.  (Which is intriguing, because ownership of the Met Center and its upkeep was the major issue that ultimately led to the North Stars leaving)

The committee, which disbanded when the Metrodome closed, consisted of 7 voting members, 6 appointed by the Minneapolis city council and a Chair person appointed by the Governor.  The commissioners were not salaried and served 4 year terms.  During that time period 2 different Chairpersons presided over the committee.  Ron Gornick from 1983-1991 and Bill Hunter from 1991-1993.  Interestingly though, the committee also had a non-voting 'Executive Director' that was salaried and had no term limit. The position is appointed by the chair of the committee.  The Executive Director of the Metropolitan Sports Commission from 1987-2012 (ie the entire time period the North Stars were asking for improvements) was a man named Bill Lester.  An unnamed source with a vast knowledge and experience in Minnesota politics told me that nobody ever even knew who the Chairs were.  Lester was really in charge and he had a HUGE amount of power even though he didn’t have a vote.  I have no evidence of any conspiracies or anything nefarious, but the fact is that the North Stars leaving happened under Bill Lester’s watch.  The Commission’s motives may have been to force the North Stars downtown, but their decisions cost Minnesota more to get an NHL franchise to return than it would have to keep the North Stars here. 

In our minds, it was easy to blame Norm.  Who better to point the finger at than an owner who wasn’t “one of us” and displayed less than favorable character?  This is going to ruffle some Minnesota feathers, mostly because everyone likes hating Norm (me included).  But I think we’ve been blaming the wrong person all these years.  Even though he still sucks. 

 

Sources

-Interview with Lou Nanne – April 1, 2019 

-Crease and Assist - A Legally Compliant Hockey Blog

-Minnesota Legislative Reference Library – Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission  https://www.leg.state.mn.us/lrl/agencies/detail?AgencyID=1063

-Bill Lester/New Chief of Sports Facilities – Gregor W. Pinney - Star Tribune June 1, 1987 

-Lester Resigns After 25 years of Leading Metrodome Commission - Ed Stych - Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal - Jul 19, 2012 https://www.bizjournals.com/twincities/blog/sports-business/2012/07/bill-lester-leaves-metrodome-commission.html

-Longtime Metrodome Chief Leaves - Richard Meryhew and Paul Walsh – July 19, 2012  http://www.startribune.com/longtime-metrodome-chief-leaves/163042006/

-Minnesota North Stars - History and Memories with Lou Nanne - Bob Showers

-Wikipedia


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