U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank asked the same question in court Friday of lawyers for the Vikings and Wells Fargo: Who cares, and why are you still fighting?
The Vikings and the bank were in court again for almost three hours, each asking the judge to rule for their side before the suit goes to trial.
Wells Fargo wants Frank to allow raised and lighted red-and-yellow rooftop signs. The bank’s lawyer argued the signs are just “two little red boxes” on the top of the buildings.
The Vikings say that a two-year-old contract requires the 56-by-56-foot signs to be painted on flush with the roof, not raised.
The team argues that the “garish” signs “disturb” the image of the new $1.1 billion U.S. Bank Stadium for which Vikings owners paid $600 million.
Wells Fargo paid $300 million to move to eastern downtown. Some 5,000 Wells Fargo employees work in the towers daily — a block from the imposing shadow of the stadium carrying the logo of a competitor.
In his extremely gentle manner, Frank asked Wells Fargo lawyer Christopher Grote and Vikings lawyer Kevin Coan to explain their entrenched positions.
To Grote, who had spent much of his hour of oral argument downplaying the visibility of the signs, Frank said, “You’re saying, ‘Look, there’s nothing here.’ … Why would Wells Fargo spend $490,000 putting [the signs] up if no one can see them?”
Grote said he couldn’t “for the life of me” understand why signs elevated 38 inches on a 252-foot building would matter to the Vikings.
Coan countered that Wells Fargo is “photobombing a carefully planned and very expensive picture” by inserting its logo into the aerial image of the stadium. “Visibility. … That is the whole point of spending $490,000,” Coan said.
The red-and-yellow Wells Fargo logos can be seen only from aircraft or cameras in the sky.
Ruling within three weeks
Frank — as he has before — expressed dismay and incredulity that the sides are still fighting in court. “Seems to me there’s a disconnect here,” Frank said. “Everybody is trying to be a good corporate citizen … everybody is clapping and hooraying” about cooperation, he said. “Yet here we are.”
Both sides claim to be acting within the boundaries of the 2014 agreement.
The signed contract was between the Vikings and Ryan Companies, which developed the $400 million mixed-use project that Wells Fargo anchors. Everyone agrees the contract discussion over which signs would be allowed was so intense it almost scuttled the project.
As part of the legislation passed to build U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings were given authority over a surrounding district. The team’s aim was to create a “seamless, sophisticated, clean-looking presentation of the area,” Coan said.
Grote argued that the signs are “hardly discernible” and that the Vikings suffer no harm by their presence.
Frank said he will issue his decision in no more than three weeks. He gave no hint of how he will rule, but the dispute is on an expedited schedule with a trial set to begin July 11.
The stadium ribbon-cutting is set for July 22, with the first event on Aug. 3. In another sign of the smooth progress toward completion, Minneapolis issued a “certificate of occupancy” for the building Friday. The certificate is required by the state before a building’s tenants can move in.
The initial target date for the handover of the document was July 15.