ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — The 2016 opening of the new Vikings stadium could be in jeopardy. The team unexpectedly broke off negotiations with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA).
The Vikings say they want to wait until an investigation into the team owners’ finances is complete.
Earlier this month, a New Jersey judge said the Zygi and Mark Wilf, who own the Vikings, are guilty of fraud and civil racketeering charges in connection with a 20-year-old real estate lawsuit.
The Wilfs say they won’t sign any stadium papers until the Minnesota investigation is complete, which raises the very real possibility the stadium won’t open in 2016 as planned.
Negotiations over the lease and use agreements ended after the state began its investigation into their background and ability to pay.
Now the MSFA, which is responsible for overseeing stadium construction, says if negations don’t re-start soon, there could be a serious– and expensive– delay.
“Our work on the stadium must continue if we’re going to stay on schedule,” said Michele Kelm Helgen, chairwoman of the MSFA. “That’s what we need to alert the public of today: That we’re very concerned about that schedule.”
The Vikings appear offended. They say the Wilfs and their financing plan have been vetted by the NFL, and a consortium of banks led by US Bank.
A Vikings spokesperson said the team is cooperating fully, but the team won’t negotiate if the state doesn’t consider them equal partners.
“Until the due diligence gets completed and they have confidence in our organization and our ownership that we are partners that can go forward, then there’s no point in having these discussions,” said Lester Bagley, vice president of Public Affairs and Stadium Development for the Minnesota Vikings.
But the MSFA says that’s not true.
Peter Carter, the Dorsey & Whitney attorney heading the investigation, issued the following statement to “set the record straight”.
“The Vikings have stated that they have provided the MSFA with detailed financial information in our due diligence review. We have received no such information. The MSFA, through our attorneys, have made multiple requests for more cooperation from the Wilfs. To date they have refused to provide us with any personal financial information that our advisors need to obtain comfort that the New Jersey court case result will not impact their ability to meet their financial obligations.
We look forward to receiving the financial information from the Wilf’s so that we can conduct our due diligence. The people of Minnesota deserve to know that the team can finance their part of the stadium construction budget – without delay.
A meeting with US Bank took place but Mr. Bagley was not present and the unequivocal reassurance he refers to was never provided. The Wilf’s have required us to sign a confidentiality agreement that precludes our advisors from discussing what was said.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Mark Dayton, who first questioned the Wilfs’ integrity, said this week he doesn’t think the “due diligence” investigation endangers the stadium project.
And in a written statement Friday, Dayton expressed support for the Sports Authority and urged the Vikings to return to the stadium talks.
Here’s the governor’s statement:
“I strongly support the position expressed today by the Board of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which urged the Vikings to resume negotiations crucial to the new stadium being ready for the 2016 NFL season. The team’s owners need to understand that the Board’s additional due diligence is an absolutely necessary response to the severe criticisms made recently by a federal judge.
“The Authority did not ask for this difficult situation; it was foisted upon them. I thank the Board members for acting responsibly to safeguard our public investment.”
At the Minnesota State Fair, some Vikings fans think the state went too far. Some said the Wilfs are being treated unfairly.
“I just love the Minnesota Vikings so much,” said Ron Jablonski, a Vikings fan from Chisago City. “I wish [the state] would back off.”