Vikings owners ordered to pay $84.5 million in lawsuit

BY foxsports • September 23, 2013

By the time the dust settles on this Wilf legal rigmarole, the Vikings may have already moved into their new home.

That was the message from a pair of lawyers that represent principal team owner Zygi Wilf, his brother Mark Wilf and their cousin Leonard Wilf, who were ordered Monday to pay $84.5 million in damages in a 21-year-old New Jersey real estate case. The resulting appeal process, attorney Peter Harvey said, will last between two and three years.

The franchise's new, state-of-the-art, multipurpose replacement for the Metrodome is slated for completion by July 2016.

"The stadium will be built and opening kickoff will have taken place long before this case is decided by the appellate division and, if necessary, the New Jersey Supreme Court," Harvey told reporters during a conference call early Monday evening.

That's the next step, then, in an ongoing and highly-publicized civil battle between the Wilfs and a pair of real estate partners? In early August, Judge Deanne Wilson found the trio had illegally withheld agreed-upon revenue from Ada Reichmann and Josef Halpern, who each claim partial ownership in a New Jersey housing development.

The judge's findings sparked rampant speculation about the Vikings' preparedness to finance their part of the $975 million stadium, wrought strict criticism from Minnesota governor Mark Dayton and prompted a thorough Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority review of the Wilfs' fiscal health and the team's plan to pay its allotted portion.

The authority released findings Sept. 13 that assured taxpayers the Vikings will, in fact, be able to fork out $477 million for construction and operation costs, and the ownership group's attorneys reiterated that notion Monday.

"It's just a non-issue," Harvey said. "It never was an issue, frankly."

With the team flying Monday to London for an overseas contest against Pittsburgh on Sunday, the Wilfs were notified of the judge's ruling. But it could be years before they ever cut a check for the punitive and compensatory damages, accrued interest and plaintiff attorney fees (a figure that has yet to be calculated and added in) Wilson says they owe.

If their legal counsel has its way, they'll never have to.

"We believe the appellate court will conclude the Wilfs are not liable to any wrongdoing and that the decision will be reversed," attorney Shep Guryan said.

As the proceedings wound down last week, Wilson opted to not go through with an order mandating the Wilfs' reveal publicly their net worth. She'd originally said they should before she made a final ruling, but knowledge the case will go to an appeals court convinced her to think twice -- if the decision is overturned, information that was supposed to remain private will have been exposed.

As far as the stadium goes, any final sum drawn from the Wilfs' pocketbooks isn't expected to delay or hamper construction. According to Sports Business Daily, the team will borrow about $250 million from lead lenders Goldman Sachs, U.S. Bank and Bank of America -- the same consortium the San Francisco 49ers used to finance their new venue.

The NFL also will lend Minnesota approximately $200 million, and the team hopes to generate substantial revenue via personal seat licenses. The city of Minneapolis owes $150 million for the project, while the state is on the hook for $348 million.

Meanwhile, negotiations between the team and the MSFA continue to progress, team president of public affairs and stadium development Lester Bagley said. The sides are working out the final details on the project's use and development agreements, both of which must be signed before a groundbreaking can occur.

"I think the negotiations and discussions have been going very well," Bagley said. "We've been working collaboratively with the stadium authority and are working hard to keep the project on track."

Bagley declined to put a timeline on completion of the discussions, but MSFA spokeswoman Jennifer Hathaway told in an email the authority expects to wrap up agreements by Friday. That's also the MSFA's next scheduled meeting and the first time it can vote to sign off on the integral accords.

The stadium timeline then calls for an early-November start date. The Metrodome will be torn down after this season, and the Vikings will call the University of Minnesota's outdoor TCF Bank Stadium home for two years before moving into their new digs.

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