MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings still aren’t discussing important agreements pertaining to the construction and operation of their planned football palace.
But they have taken a significant step this week in hopes of resuming those negotiations.
As of Wednesday, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority’s investigation into the team’s ownership was moving along smoothly after the NFL team turned over integral information, authority chair Michele Kelm-Helgen said. She’s confident the MSFA soon will have everything it needs to conduct a thorough investigation of Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and the New Jersey lawsuit that has raised questions about his family’s business practices and ability to finance the team’s portion of the $975 million stadium.
“We’re feeling really positive about the process at this point,” Kelm-Helgen told FOXSportsNorth.com.
That wasn’t the vibe a few days ago.
The Vikings announced late last week they won’t be discussing the stadium’s use and development agreements until the MSFA’s “due diligence” is complete. Those two accords have become buzzwords since news broke of the Wilfs’ judge-announced guilt in a case involving two of their real estate business partners, as both the team and the authority must sign off on them before construction can begin.
Further complicating matters, the MSFA’s lead litigator released a statement Friday saying the team “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.”
An article on the Vikings website and public comments from vice president of public affairs and stadium development Lester Bagley had indicated the team was fully collaborating.
Bagley told FOXSportsNorth.com on Wednesday the team had provided information through U.S. Bank before Tuesday, when it handed over data directly from the Wilfs.
The MSFA began working through it immediately. It still needs a few more pieces of information from the Vikings and the NFL, but Kelm-Helgen said the authority is confident it will have those in hand by the end of the day Thursday.
The sooner it finishes sifting through it all, the sooner the sides can resume talks and ink the use and development agreements (assuming the investigators come out confident in the team’s fiscal stability). Because the Vikings still refuse to participate in those negotiations, the MSFA drafted its own agreements for the team to look at as soon as it’s ready.
The Vikings could sign off on them immediately, but there are still some outstanding issues when it comes to leasing, construction and future renovation to be hashed out.
“There’s a handful of open issues,” Bagley said. “We should be able to close those out and keep the train on time.”
According to the MSFA’s timeline, the agreements must be ratified by Sept. 15 in order to remain on schedule for an early November groundbreaking. The team, city and state hope to have the stadium complete by July 2016, in time for football season that fall.
Kelm-Helgen warned the public and the Vikings last week if negotiations aren’t expedited, construction could be delayed; the MSFA probe also carries a Sept. 15 deadline.
New Jersey judge Deanne Wilson — who announced earlier this month Wilf and his family members committed fraud, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and violated the state’s civil racketeering statute — could muddy the water further. She’s expected to rule any day how much money the Wilfs owe in connection to the case.
But with the needed financials firmly in hand, the home-front excavation of their business dealings and stadium financing plan could be completed early. Unless the Vikings renege on their pledge to spurn the negotiating table until then, an early due-diligence completion date marks the only avenue to signing the use and development agreements on time.
“There are a lot of things to be followed up on, to be tracked and verified,” Kelm-Helgen said. “But we’re well on our way.”
Said Bagley: “Overall, this is a long, hard plan that’s spent 10 years in the making. Last week, we hit a bump in the road, and there have been several, but we’re working through it.”