This story showed up late last week, but it was just too weird for me to quite know what to do with:
Raiders sell Vegas-area facility for 30 times what they paid for it 2 years ago
In a move that raised some eyebrows in Nevada, the Raiders sold their unfinished Henderson, Nev. headquarters and practice facility for $191 million and immediately leased it back, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Wednesday.
By flipping the 55.6 acres of land they purchased at a cut rate two years ago from the city of Henderson for about $6 million (about half the property’s value), the Raiders turned a profit of $185 million, more than 30 times what they originally paid for the land.
Okay, so there are only two reasons to flip a piece of land in only two years: Either you happened upon a chance to buy low and sell high, or there’s some other kind of fiscal shenanigans going on.
The Los Angeles Daily News story above (and the original Las Vegas Review-Journal article that first reported it) focuses on the 2900% profit and suggest that this is the former. But while Henderson no doubt gave Raiders owner Mark Davis a sweet deal, even the appraised value of the land was only around $12 million — it’s possible that was a low estimate as well, but the difference between $12 million and $191 million seems too much even for a government appraiser to miss.
The other possibility lurks in this language in the Review-Journal article:
Chicago-based Mesirow Financial purchased the under-construction football facility across from Henderson Executive Airport and leased it back to the NFL team for 29 years, with seven 10-year extension options, filings with the Clark County recorder’s office show.
The sale closed Friday. Public records obtained by the Review-Journal do not show the Raiders’ annual rent.
One common reason for lease-out, lease-in deals, or LILOs as they’re known, is to get out of a tax obligation: If the new owner of the land were a nonprofit or a church or school, say, the Raiders could use this to get out of paying property taxes on the site. That doesn’t appear to be the case, though, as Mesirow is a giant financial services firm, so not likely to be just a conduit for a tax dodge.
That unknown annual rent figure, on the other hand, is a major red flag. Let’s say the Raiders are paying, say, $10 million a year in lease payments. At that point, this is less a property sale than a mechanism for a long-term private loan at a 3% interest rate. That the practice facility ends up in the hands of Mesirow is all but irrelevant, as it almost certainly is, since a 30-year-old NFL practice facility isn’t likely to be worth much in the year 2050, if Las Vegas even has a water supply by then.
Now, we don’t know that Davis is paying out a high annual lease fee — we don’t know anything about how much he’s paying at all. (Though Mesirow must be getting a decent chunk of change, because owning an NFL practice facility otherwise doesn’t provide much in the way of either profits or glory.) But it’s one possible scenario, and one that the media really should be considering before jumping to conclusions on who got ripped off over what. If nothing else, call a LILO expert and ask them what they think might be going on. Sometimes the most that journalism can do is ask the right questions and reveal that there isn’t enough information available to provide all the answers, whether or not that makes for the snappiest headlines.