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Monday, July 23, 2007

Surge in School Pride... the University of Minnesota goes after a whole new class of stadium donors!

'For the past two decades, Robert Sabes owned Schieks Palace Royale, one of the premier strip clubs in downtown Minneapolis and one of a string of business interests that have made Sabes an intriguing figure.

And for more than a year, the University of Minnesota has been chasing the colorful but reclusive Sabes [tough combination, colorful and reclusive], hoping his family would contribute financially to the school's new football stadium.

As recently as a week ago, the university listed the Sabes Family Foundation as verbally committing $1 million to the project -- making Sabes potentially one of the largest donors to the new 50,000-seat stadium.

"The university has had a number of discussions with the foundation about opportunities to support our mission, whether it is the stadium or in another way," said Dan Wolter, a university spokesman.

"We don't comment on discussions with donors and potential donors."

University officials involved in the drive to raise $86 million in private money for the $288.5 million stadium, including Joel Maturi, the school's athletic director, declined to comment on the potential gift or Sabes' background with Schieks.

But a university adjunct professor, who said he had approached Sabes' foundation on behalf of the stadium fundraising drive, said the contribution had grown more uncertain even as school officials count it toward the $60 million already raised privately for the stadium. Andy Andrews, an adjunct professor with the Carlson School of Management, said that the foundation had in effect withdrawn its commitment, and that university officials are now scrambling to get the family to reconsider.

"He's a very generous guy," said Andrews, who said he first approached the foundation at least two years ago and said he was asked recently by stadium fundraising officials to lobby it again. [So a professor at Minnesota has the task of shaking money out of people for the stadium. Is that part of his Annual Review?] Andrews said Sabes' business interests were not part of the university's fundraising discussions, and added that "I don't suppose I gave it much thought. I'm just trying to raise money for the stadium."

Steve Sabes, the family foundation's trustee, said neither the foundation nor Robert Sabes would comment on their discussions with the university. "He's a private person. He just doesn't want to get involved," said Stevn Sabes. Robert Sabes is listed as a foundation manager in 2005, the most recent year for which state records are available. The foundation reported $43 million in assets that year.

A 'minor investment'

Though friends and business associates describe Sabes, 67, as having a long history of philanthropic activity in Minnesota, particularly with Jewish causes, his ownership of Schieks -- and his history of casino and other interests -- has stood in vivid contrast to his charitable work. City records in fact show that Sabes sold Schieks, located in a distinctive bank building on S. 4th Street across from the former federal courthouse, earlier this year for $10 million.

"He doesn't have a bad bone in his whole body," said Jimmy Pesis, a former Minneapolis bar owner and acquaintance of Sabes, who last year was listed in city records as living in Las Vegas. "That bar that you talked about [Schieks] is just some little, minor investment."

Sabes has indeed always been about more than Schieks.

Others who know Sabes describe a wide array of business ventures including, according to state records, companies that owned a variety of local restaurants, among them the Freight House in Stillwater. In the early 1990s, a Sabes-owned restaurant in Minneapolis -- Jersey's Sports Bar -- was listed as having the most police calls in the city. Sabes also made headlines in the mid-1990s when it was disclosed he guaranteed a $40,000 loan to then-Hennepin County Commissioner Sandra Hilary, who sought Sabes' help to battle a gambling addiction.

Sabes, however, has been involved with gambling interests on a larger stage and served, for a time, as chief executive officer for the Gaming Corporation of America, a company that sought casino management contracts with Indian tribes across the country. Sabes complained that federal and state regulators had unfairly cast him, and even his father, Moe, a founder of the American Fruit & Produce Co., as having links to organized crime figures.

"This all seems surreal," Sabes told Corporate Report of Minnesota, a business trade journal, in 1993.

'Giving back is critical'

Robert Kramarczuk, a professor at Hamline University and a friend of Sabes for 40 years, said he and Sabes worked with political leaders in Ukraine in the early 1990s to help bring modern farming methods to the country. "We were a little bit ahead of our time," said Kramarczuk, who said Sabes provided "expertise and money" for the project.

"To him, giving back is critical," said Kramarczuk. "He's probably one of the most generous, forgiving people that I know."

Though many of Sabes' friends downplayed his role with Schieks -- and contend he long wanted to sell it -- a city licensing official said Sabes clearly appeared to be in charge of the strip club during his ownership. Grant Wilson, the city's business license manager, said he and Sabes sparred over littering issues when Schieks employees, mostly young women, handed out promotional cards outside the Metrodome on game days. [No doubt he's planning the same sort of promotional thing for the outside of the university's stadium... And since he's one of its major donors, who's to stop him?] "He fought us every inch of the way," he said.'

---minnesota star tribune---


UPDATE: Mr. Bonzo at The Periodic Table, who seems quite familiar with Schieks, suggests that Maturi might also want to approach the owners of Hooters.