SBD/August 26, 2013/Facilities

Minnesota Gov. Says Wilfs' Legal Woes Shouldn't Halt Vikings' Stadium Construction

Zygi Wilf (l) and his family are dealing with the fallout of a civil suit in New Jersey
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said that Vikings Owner Zygi Wilf and his family's legal problems "should not keep" the team's new stadium from being built, according to Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE. Dayton: "I think that is extremely unlikely. Anything is possible, but I think we’ll have a stadium built." He added that the NFL is "taking a neutral position right now" on the topic. Dayton: "They obviously are supportive of the Wilfs, as they are of the other owners, but I think it's a case now where the investigative auditors need to go in and make sure that the people of Minnesota got a square deal." Dayton was asked if the Vikings could be relocated to a different city if the stadium deal were to fall through because of the Wilfs' legal issues and responded, "I certainly want them to succeed, I want them to stay in Minnesota and have a great season. I want to see a Super Bowl victory before I pass on" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 8/26). In St. Paul, Brian Murphy reports Vikings co-Owner & President Mark Wilf is "confident the team's new stadium project will be completed in time for the 2016 season despite stalled lease negotiations" with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which is auditing the team's owners. Wilf "declined to comment" last night on the financial due diligence investigation the MSFA ordered in the wake of the family's legal issues. The team "expects groundbreaking to start on time in November." Mark Wilf said, "We see no reason why we're not going to be able to move forward. We're excited about the project and working hard to make the stadium something fans can be excited about" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 8/26).

NEW ISSUES POPPING UP? In Minneapolis, Ragsdale, Kaszuba & Moore reported the Vikings' stadium project "encountered fresh problems on Friday" when MSFA attorney Peter Carter revealed that the Wilfs "have refused to prove they can pay their share." Carter said despite "multiple requests" for such information, the Wilfs to date had "refused to provide us with any personal financial information that our advisers need to obtain comfort that the New Jersey court case will not impact their ability to meet their financial obligations." MSFA Chair Michele Kelm-Helgen earlier Friday had "called on the team to return to negotiations over final stadium contract language or risk a construction delay that could push back the scheduled opening date of July 1, 2016, by at least a month." Kelm-Helgen said that talks "must resume while the authority’s lawyers conduct a review of the New Jersey litigation and perform extensive background checks on the Wilfs’ finances." Dayton on Friday said that he "strongly supports the authority's position." Vikings VP/Public Affairs & Stadium Development Lester Bagley said, "Until they complete this due-diligence inquiry and have the confidence that we are good partners, we can’t have partnership negotiations." MSFA members in response to the team's position suggested that they "stop negotiating and merely offer the state’s position to the team -- take it or leave it." Kelm-Helgen said that the authority "would like to have the agreements signed and the due-diligence report finished by Sept. 15" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 8/24).

COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION: The Vikings on Friday posted a statement on the team's website that read in part, "Rest assured Vikings fans, the new home for Vikings football remains on time and on budget." It continued, "Since the MSFA’s inquiry, the Vikings and the Wilfs have fully cooperated with the due diligence process, providing detailed financial documents and background information. ... The MSFA must feel entirely confident about the Wilfs' ability to fulfill their stadium obligations. The ongoing inquiry makes it clear the Authority currently feels it does not have that assurance. How can we finalize fundamental partnership documents without the full trust of our partner? Until the due diligence is complete and the MSFA has complete confidence in the Vikings organization, negotiations shouldn't move forward" (VIKINGS.com, 8/23). ESPN.com's Ben Goessling wrote, "While news about a possible eight-figure ruling against the Wilfs, and the state's ensuing outrage, might make for good drama, it seems unlikely to be anything more than a brief hindrance to a stadium project that many powerful people wanted to get done" (ESPN.com, 8/23). But PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio wrote, "The Vikings have taken a fairly aggressive position in response to a fairly aggressive ploy from the MSFA. It easily could devolve into a game of chicken, with the Vikings eventually flying the coop" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 8/23). 
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