MINNEAPOLIS — As of Friday morning, the notion the Wilf family’s legal issues may affect construction of the Minnesota Vikings’ new stadium was no longer hypothetical.
By early Friday evening, a full-on dispute between the governing body responsible for project oversight and the NFL team had arisen.
Groundbreaking on the project, originally slated for October, has been pushed back a month. Central negotiations between the team and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority have ceased for the time being. If disconnect persists much longer, the project could be delayed even further.
Vikings officials say they’re cooperating fully with MSFA demands. People working for the MSFA beg to differ.
Tension, not progress, reigns at the moment.
It became clear when MSFA chair Michele Kelm-Helgen issued a statement Friday morning stating the Vikings had cut off important discussions and urging them to come back to the table Monday. A timeline issued by the MSFA’s construction consultant calls for a November start in order to complete the $975 million stadium in time for the 2016 football season.
The Vikings canceled meetings last week and are refusing to hash out the foundational lease and construction agreements until the Wilfs’ review is over.
“These documents are fundamental agreements,” Vikings vice president of public affairs and stadium development Lester Bagley told FOXSportsNorth.com. “Those are huge partnership agreements. We believe it’s best to negotiate these partnership agreements when we’re at the table as partners. But right now, the MSFA is doing its due diligence study but is not confident in our ability to deliver financially. Before we can be at the table as partners, we’re going to set aside those two documents.”
Before news of the court findings broke, the team and the authority were scheduled to finalize the use and development accords Friday.
Instead, the MSFA is looking into the team’s ability to finance its $477 million contribution to the stadium project, the remaining cost of which is being footed by the city and the state.
“It is imperative that the MSFA and the Vikings work on these two issues concurrently — negotiate the (use agreement) and (development agreement) and complete the additional due diligence required by the recent court decision,” Kelm-Helgen said in her statement. “If these negotiations do not resume until September 15th, the entire schedule will slip a month.”
Bagley said as much when the audit of the Wilfs first began: “We’ve got to keep the project going, so we ask the stadium authority to keep this thing rolling while they complete their research,” he told FOXSportsNorth.com Aug. 13. “We think we can dual-track this project.”
The sides actually continued to do so Friday, Bagley said, in approving several more specific measures toward construction and financing. The team and its attorneys, meanwhile, have done everything the MSFA has asked during the audit process, he said.
Bagley says they’ll find an organization that remains fully capable of fulfilling its stadium pledge.
“This New Jersey lawsuit, regardless of how it comes out, will have absolutely no effect on the Minnesota Vikings’ ability to finance this project,” he said.
The Vikings reiterated that message in a statement on their website posted around 2 p.m. Friday. The release telling Vikings fans to “look beyond the rhetoric” also repeats the team is collaborating fully with the MSFA by “providing detailed financial documents and background information.”
About three hours later, the lead due-diligence investigator came out and said that’s just not true.
According to a statement from Dorsey & Whitney attorney Peter Carter, the Vikings have not provided the MSFA with much of the data necessary for the review. Multiple requests for increased cooperation from the Wilfs have gone unfulfilled, the release says.
“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,” Carter said of the Vikings. “We look forward to receiving the financial information from the Wilfs 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.”
Provided the team does its part, Kelm-Helgen said the audit could be wrapped up before Sept. 15. But she sees no reason the sides can’t collaborate on it while finalizing the pair of integral documents.
She said the Vikings told her they need the use and development agreements finalized by the second week of September in order to complete their private financing plan with lenders, which include the NFL.
“They basically have said unless we stop the due diligence, they won’t negotiate with us,” Kelm-Helgen told FOXSportsNorth.com. “We clearly can’t and won’t do that. I certainly don’t understand why doing this due diligence in any way makes us bad partners.
“At our board meeting this morning, all five of us on the board . . . talked about the fact this issue is not of our making; we are simply reacting to some serious allegations that a judge issued in her findings.”