The owners of the Minnesota Vikings announced a major foray into Minnesota philanthropy Wednesday, a Wilf Family Center at the University of Minnesota's Masonic Children's Hospital in Minneapolis.
The $5 million center, unveiled Wednesday, features an auditorium and high-tech conference rooms. It marks a significant leap into Minnesota philanthropy for the New Jersey-based Wilf Family Foundation, which has focused on causes in New York and New Jersey.
The children's hospital gift represents the Wilfs' largest single donation in Minnesota. Vikings co-owner Zygi Wilf said he expected his family's charitable giving in Minnesota to grow.
"We look forward to a long, strong commitment to Minnesota and the Twin Cities community," Wilf said.
Bobbi Daniels, CEO of University of Minnesota Physicians, gave the Wilfs a tour of the 11,000-square-foot addition, which will be used both by children staying at the hospital and by U physicians for training and research-sharing.
"The University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital is known for treating the most serious childhood illnesses and performing many 'firsts' in pediatric medicine," Daniels said. "The Wilf Family Center transforms how we can share that expertise."
The donation comes at a time when the Vikings continue to come under fire for the stadium-funding package that left Minnesota taxpayers footing more than half the cost of the billion-dollar stadium, and for a court ruling that found the Wilfs guilty of defrauding their former New Jersey business partners.
The Vikings co-owners said there was nothing special about the timing of the $5 million contribution. The Vikings have made considerable financial contributions in Minnesota, said Mark Wilf, adding, "This is just a continuation."
The Wilf Family Foundation was created in 1964 by Joseph and Elizabeth Wilf, Holocaust survivors who immigrated to the United States in the 1950s. Over the years, it has given away more than $200 million, mainly to medical, educational and Jewish causes, the Wilfs said.
In 2012 alone, it donated $7 million, including $2 million to New York University and $1.1 million for the American Society of Yad Veshem, which supports the state of Israel's official Holocaust memorial.
The duration and size of some of these donations have translated into public recognition. There's a Wilf Family Department of Politics at New York University and a Wilf Hall at the NYU Law School, where Vikings President Mark Wilf graduated. One of four campuses at Yeshiva University in New York City is named the Wilf Campus.
But Minnesota charities were not high on the list. They received roughly $25,000 a year, according to tax filings from 2009 to 2012. The gifts went to a small group of nonprofits, such as the Minneapolis Jewish Federation and Sabes Jewish Community Center.
This week's $5 million donation put a new philanthropic footprint on the map, but the Vikings co-owners say it fits with the family's philanthropic priorities.
"This [donation] deals with children, with medical needs, with education — the three pillars of our family's giving," Mark Wilf said.
U President Eric Kaler said he flew to New York to meet with the Wilfs in 2013 to discuss the project, in part because the U already had a "business relationship" with the Vikings through its lease of the TCF Bank Stadium for two seasons.
The addition will help ensure that the U will continue to be a leader in pediatric medicine, he said.
"This is a wonderful example of the ongoing partnership between the U, the Wilf family and the Vikings," Kaler said.
The Wilf Family Foundation is one of about a half-dozen foundations that Wilf family siblings and relatives have started, and by far the biggest. There's a Zygmunt and Audrey Wilf Foundation, which Zygi Wilf said has made significant contributions to the Walker Art Center. There's also a Mark and Jane Wilf Family Foundation and a Wilf Family Education Foundation and others.
All the foundations are administered under the same roof in New Jersey, and family members alone make funding decisions.
From 2006 to 2013, Minnesota charities received about $2.1 million from all of the foundations combined, said Mary Ellen Lawrence, administrator of the family foundations.
The Wilfs say that the figure doesn't paint a full picture of the Vikings' philanthropy. The Vikings Children Fund, which has donated more than $600,000 annually in recent years, also is part of the team's charity.
However, about half its money comes from public fund-raising events, such as this month's Arctic Blast in Thief River Falls and an annual golf tournament.
About half of the children's fund donations go to the U pediatric care, which has a long-standing relationship with the Vikings, and the other half to a variety of causes such as school lunch programs and children's playgrounds. The fund was created in 1973.
The Wilfs are not alone in steering family funds to hometown charities. The Carl and Eloise Pohlad Family Foundation, whose founder was the former owner of the Minnesota Twins, wrote out checks for $10 million in 2012. The vast majority of the charities were in Minnesota.
Zygi Wilf said he hopes generations of Wilfs will get involved in Minnesota philanthropy. Said Wilf: "We hope it [the hospital donation] is the start of many things to come."