The nearly $1 billion Vikings stadium project cleared another hurdle Friday when the Minneapolis City Council unanimously approved design and planning recommendations delivered earlier this summer by the city's Stadium Implementation Committee.

The 25-member committee, made up of neighborhood residents, business leaders and political officials, met for the past year to establish guidelines for how the giant and glassy stadium should look and how it could best be integrated into the east end of downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Groundbreaking for the stadium, which will replace the Metrodome, is tentatively set for early November. Before that can happen, the project had to win final design approval from the city.

The Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which is overseeing the development, must also finalize lease and development agreements, which will determine terms of the team's stay at the stadium to who will control the construction phase of the project.

Those negotiations stopped last week after the authority launched a deeper financial and legal background investigation into team owners Mark and Zygi Wilf. The probe stems from a decision earlier this month by a New Jersey judge, who ruled that the Wilfs had defrauded partners in a real estate deal there. At the time of the ruling, the judge indicated that she would award compensatory and punitive damages in the case, which could cost the Wilfs tens of millions of dollars or more.

Concerns about the sum of the damages prompted the authority to conduct a more thorough review of the Wilfs' business dealings to make sure they can finance their portion of the $975 million construction cost. The Vikings are responsible for $477 million of that cost.

Michele Kelm-Helgen, the authority chairwoman, said this week that the review should be complete by the second week of September. The Vikings, citing a loss in leverage in the lease and development talks because of the audit, have said that they will not resume negotiating the agreements until the review is complete.

In the meantime, the authority plans to hold a special meeting at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday to discuss the review work and its contracts with the team.








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