Vikings stadium project hits snag due to Wilf lawsuit

MINNEAPOLIS — The Wilf family’s allegedly unfair business dealings have officially caused a snag in the construction of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority is delaying ratification of its written accord with the team while litigators investigate the Wilfs’ withholding of agreed-upon revenues from a real estate partner in New Jersey, the home state of principal owner Zygi Wilf and his kin Vikings co-owners. The sides were scheduled to sign off on the stadium’s use and development agreements at the MSFA’s Aug. 23 meeting, but a statement from chair Michele Kelm-Helgen says the proceedings will be rescheduled.

In the meantime, a private litigation firm will dig into the Wilfs’ alleged actions in the New Jersey case and the entirety of their business practices. Peter Carter of Dorsey & Whitney will oversee a due diligence investigation that includes “extensive background checks,” details of the Vikings’ plan for financing their portion of the stadium and even the Wilfs’ NFL owner application.

“While the due diligence review is underway, the MSFA and the Minnesota Vikings will continue to work to complete the Use and Development Agreements that will outline the business relationship between the parties,” Kelm-Helgen’s statement reads. “As the agreements are not finalized and with the additional work underway, the MSFA board will not consider these agreements on August 23, 2013.  A future meeting to consider these agreements will be scheduled.”

Concerns arose last week when New Jersey judge Deanne Wilson stated findings that Zygi Wilf, his brother Mark Wilf and their cousin Leonard Wilf committed fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty while violating the state’s civil racketeering statute in a civil case that dates back more than 20 years.

The Wilfs stand to lose at least $50 million, in addition to reimbursement for misappropriated funds and the plaintiffs’ attorney fees, when Wilson rules officially within the next week or so.

Vikings vice president of public affairs and stadium development Lester Bagley said the team would cooperate fully with the MSFA’s investigation but urged the board to keep the planning and construction process on pace.

“We’ll work with the authority on their request,” Bagley said, “but we’ve got to keep the project going, so we ask the stadium authority to keep this thing rolling while they complete their research. We think we can dual track this project.”

The Vikings have agreed to pay $477 million of construction costs for the $975 million stadium. Crews can’t break ground on the Metrodome’s replacement until the MSFA agreement is signed by both parties.

The Vikings’ ability to finance their portion while paying whatever damages and compensation Wilson dictates is a minor concern. Zygi Wilf alone is a billionaire.

But the MSFA, at the urging of Minnesota governor Mark Dayton, desires to ensure the New Jersey case is an isolated incident.

Dayton said he was “deeply concerned” last week when news broke of the Judge’s findings.

“It’s an important issue, it’s a serious issue, and we take it seriously,” Bagley said. “It adds another layer of legal work to the project, but we understand that, and we’ll cooperate fully and, again, we’ll do our part. We’re doing everything we can to keep it on track.”

Despite the delay in formalizing lease and construction terms, Kelm-Helgen doesn’t believe the completion date of fall 2016 has been jeopardized in any way.

“We do not expect this to affect the overall project timeline, as progress continues between the Minnesota Vikings and the MSFA,” she said at the end of her statement.

Even in the wake of the lawsuit involving the Wilfs, the Minneapolis Planning Commission formally signed off Monday on the stadium’s see-through, glass-heavy design. The only party left to approve the physical plans is the Minneapolis City Council.

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