Vikings, stadium authority make progress on audit of Wilfs

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 28, 2013 - 11:06 PM

Despite substantial progress on audit, stadium construction could still be delayed, an official warns.

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Vikings owner Zygi Wilf

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The deep background check into the finances of Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf has made “substantial progress” over the past 48 hours, a state official said Wednesday.

But it still may not be enough to avoid a construction delay on the team’s new downtown Minneapolis home.

“We don’t have much time here, and I’m still concerned about the schedule,” said Michele Kelm-Helgen, chairwoman of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which is overseeing development of the $975 million stadium on the Metrodome site.

After a public dispute between the authority and the team last week over access to the Wilfs’ finances, the Wilfs turned over a “substantial amount” of personal information over the past two days dealing with their finances and legal affairs, Kelm-Helgen said. Representatives of both sides met into the night Tuesday and again Wednesday to comb through documents.

“They’ve got volumes of information there,” said Lester Bagley, a team spokesman.

“We’ve basically gotten all the financial information that we’ve requested,” Kelm-Helgen said. “We have complete financial information. Now we have to verify the accuracy and sort of follow the tracks.”

The Wilfs’ actions led to an early optimism Wednesday that the team might resume negotiations on important lease and development agreements that need to be finalized before stadium groundbreaking takes place in early November.

But Kelm-Helgen said that optimism dimmed after Vikings officials reiterated later in the day that they will not return to the negotiating table on those issues until the financial and legal review is complete.

The authority has set a deadline of Sept. 15 for finishing the audit, but Kelm-Helgen said the progress made over the past two days could shave nearly a week off that timeline.

Still, if the team doesn’t resume negotiations on those agreements before then, she said, stadium construction could be delayed by at least one month, potentially costing millions.

Financial commitments

The authority launched the more thorough financial and legal background check of the Wilfs after a New Jersey judge ruled earlier this month that they had defrauded business partners in a real estate deal in that state.

The judge, who was highly critical of the Wilfs’ business practices, indicated at the time that she would award compensatory and punitive damages in the case, which could cost the owners tens of millions of dollars or more. The damage awards are expected in coming weeks.

The Vikings and the Wilfs have said repeatedly, however, that despite concerns about the sum of the damage awards, their financial commitment to the project is secure. The team has committed to financing $477 million of the construction cost with the state of Minnesota and city of Minneapolis responsible for the rest.

The NFL, which will contribute a $200 million loan to the construction financing, also has consistently said that it stands behind the project. League officials restated that position in a face-to-face meeting with Kelm-Helgen at league headquarters in New York last week.

“The league is 100 percent committed,” she said.

Nevertheless, the audit has been a source of tension between the authority and team since Kelm-Helgen said two weeks ago that the board planned to bill the Vikings or the Wilfs for the work, whose cost could reach six figures.

After the Vikings broke off talks on the lease and development agreements, Bagley said there was no point in negotiating until the audit was complete and the authority was confident that “we have the ability to deliver financially.” He also said the audit was having an effect on team’s “leverage” in those talks.

‘A ton of work going on’

Tensions surfaced publicly late last week when the authority attorney leading the probe said that the Wilfs and the team had not responded to repeated requests for the personal financial information.

Officials for the team said over the weekend, however, that they planned to deliver the information this week.

“There’s a ton of work going on,” Bagley said. “But they have gotten the information they need. And it will show, as we’ve said, that regardless of how the New Jersey lawsuit is resolved, it’ll have no impact and no bearing on [the Wilfs’] ability to move forward on the stadium project.”

The team and authority are hoping to open the 65,000-seat stadium by July 2016.

 

Richard Meryhew • 612-673-4425

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