The owners of a luxury condominium overlooking the St. Croix River thought they had a great idea to show their support for Minnesota troops -- they'd donate a gorgeous condo to one lucky veteran.
That was last year. Since then, they've tried to find a veterans' organization or other group to help them choose a veteran and arrange logistics. Much to their amazement, they've had no takers.
"The most common response we get is, 'It doesn't fit our mission,'" said Ken Miyamoto, sales manager for Eagles Point at the St. Croix, in Prescott, Wis. "We get all these pats on the back, but no one will help us do this. It's been really frustrating.''
Miyamoto said he contacted more than a dozen organizations -- from First Lady Mary Pawlenty's "Military Family Care Initiative" to the Minnesota Military Appreciation Fund to the national Troops First Foundation.
"Maybe we're going about this the wrong way," Miyamoto said. "But you'd think someone would jump at this."
Flip back the calendar to this time last year. Miyamoto and project owner Tom Meehan were watching news of the war in Iraq when they started brainstorming about how they could support the troops.
They were too old to join the military. But they were sitting in a riverfront complex -- complete with boat slips, billiard room and underground parking -- that was completely handicapped accessible. The light bulbs lit.
Why not donate a unit to a returning veteran, especially one disabled in the war?
And why not set an example to other developers to launch a bigger trend?
So Miyamoto starting making calls and sending e-mails. He heard of an organization called the Minnesotans' Military Appreciation Fund, and started there. The group gives cash grants to deployed soldiers as well as families of soldiers killed in combat.
Miyamoto said he met with members of the fund in downtown Minneapolis. He later received a note from a public relations firm representing the organization.
"The initiative diverts us from our focus of raising funds to provide grants to all Minnesota military who have or are serving, rather than one service person," said the e-mail from last April.
The group was also concerned about tax and other liabilities associated with the transfer of the property, said the e-mail.
Miyamoto then e-mailed the office of First Lady Mary Pawlenty, who oversees a Web-based initiative that connects military families to community services.
Her assistant responded, saying Pawlenty had forwarded the information to the Minnesota Military Family Foundation and Maj. Gen. Larry Shellito, commander of the Minnesota National Guard.
Shellito said he appreciated the offer, but the Guard "has no mechanism in place ... to process such a generous gift." He suggested the developers contact the Minnesota Military Appreciation Fund -- unaware that they already had.
Miyamoto then contacted the other group referred by Pawlenty: the Minnesota Military Family Foundation, a Golden Valley-based group that provides financial help to struggling military folks. It also turned down the offer.
"We aren't in the business of giving away condos," said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Dennis Schulstad, who co-founded the family foundation as well as the assistance fund. "We're not the right agency to do something like this.''
Schulstad suggested that the Eagles Point developers give away the condo on their own. But he speculated that the developers may want a veterans group to take the property so they could get a tax deduction.
The developers said they simply wanted to work with a veteran's organization to field applications for the condo and to build a sense of community over the process.
In addition to various veterans' groups, Miyamoto contacted several foundations belonging to the banks his company deals with and two media outlets. He even contacted the Minnesota lottery.
"It shouldn't be so hard to give something away," said Meehan.
Meehan and Miyamoto admit they may have been gone about their mission the wrong way. Early on, a Minnesota military leader steered them away from groups such as the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs or the Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) because of the bureaucracy of working with them, said Miyamoto. Now they wonder if that was good advice.
Bill Popp, president of the Minnesota Military Family Foundation, said because the donation is so unusual, potential supporters such as his foundation are wary about hidden costs.
"We really want to help military families in every way possible," said Popp. "But we don't want to get into something that creates a lot of trouble. There are huge black holes of knowledge, especially with the tax code. If you get a $100,00 gift, you can be sure the IRS will be looking at it."
Miyamoto admits he's not familiar with the tax ramifications, either. All he knows is he's got a great place just waiting for one lucky veteran. The 43-unit complex has 17 units available. The giveaway unit would be the one that best meets the veteran's needs, he said.
The floors, walls, cabinets and woodwork would be custom finished, he said. Miyamoto said he has contacted several Twin Cities trades groups who will donate their time to make that happen. He'd love to see other volunteers get involved in helping the family moving in, too.
"What we need is a group that will take this idea and run with it," he said.
"Everyone focuses on the reason this can't be done," said Miyamoto. "I wish we could find someone willing to devote as much time to focusing on why it can work."
Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511