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“We ought to slide the documents across the table … the way we want them resolved, and say, ‘Sign them, that’s our deal,’ ” said authority member and Target Corp. executive John Griffith. A delay, he said, could result in additional costs that would be the responsibility of the public, even though it is the team’s outside business interests that triggered the new investigation.
Griffith said the authority also should refuse to release “one dollar” of its contingency fund for add-ons to the project. Griffith’s comments, supported by other members of the authority, were unusually terse for what had appeared to be an amicable relationship between the MSFA and the team.
This was the first authority meeting since the New Jersey judge, in ruling against the Wilfs, said the family showed “bad faith and evil motive” in defrauding business partners. At the time, Judge Wilson found that the Wilfs had committed fraud, breach of contract and violations of the state’s civil racketeering law. Wilson is set to award damages in coming weeks, based in part on the Wilfs’ net worth.
Alan Lebensfeld, who represents a plaintiff in the New Jersey case, said of the trial’s implications for the stadium: “This thing has mushroomed beyond what any of us had anticipated.”
The Vikings are responsible for $477 million of the $975 million stadium, with the state and city of Minneapolis paying the rest. Kelm-Helgen and the authority hired Dorsey & Whitney to comb through the lawsuit, the Wilfs’ background and finances in a process known as “due diligence.”
Bagley said after the authority meeting that the team was cooperating fully with the review and producing all requested documents. But, he said, it’s a barrier to negotiations with the authority.
“The due-diligence inquiry is having a negative impact on the negotiations on those fundamental documents,” Bagley said, adding that the Wilfs — who have not commented publicly on the New Jersey case — are disappointed that the New Jersey suit has become an issue.
“I think they’re remorseful that this has taken away the energy and excitement that is building for the stadium,” Bagley said.
Kelm-Helgen said the authority would like to have the agreements signed and the due-diligence report finished by Sept. 15, so that both the team and the state can meet deadlines for securing financing and construction can begin on time. That would require the Vikings to come back to the negotiating table next week, she said. Kelm-Helgen said that if the Wilfs provide the needed information by Sept. 1, the project can stay on schedule. “We still have time,” she said.
At this point, Kelm-Helgen said the worst-case scenario is a one-month delay in 2016. She said she does not believe such a delay would add to the cost or that the project would be delayed longer. She said the authority has spent $10.4 million on the project to date.
Bagley said that whatever damages are awarded in New Jersey, the Wilfs will make their commitments in Minnesota. He said the team has organized meetings with the NFL and a consortium of banks and private investors, all of whom “have said unequivocally that the Wilfs have the financial wherewithal to finance this project.”
Neither Bagley nor Kelm-Helgen was willing to speculate about what would happen if the investigation produces new information that jeopardizes the current agreement.
In the public comment period, the authority heard from Chuck Turchick of Minneapolis. He pointed out that government and Vikings officials have been wrong about financial predictions before, including the ability of new electronic pulltabs to finance the state’s share.
“And now we have a situation where all the decisionmakers plead ignorance about a 21-year-old lawsuit that any reasonable due-diligence would have uncovered,” Turchick said. He called on the authority to release the details of the new investigation. “The public needs to see this data if they are to have any faith in this process,” he said.
Staff writer Baird Helgeson contributed to this report. Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042
Mike Kaszuba • 612-673-4388
Janet Moore • 612-673-7752