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.
Days after a public squabble over access to the financial records of Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, team representatives delivered some of that information Tuesday to the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority.
Michele Kelm-Helgen, the authority chairwoman, said that attorneys and representatives for both sides planned to meet well into Tuesday night to review the financial data.
"Getting all that information is a very positive thing," she said.
The authority's additional scrutiny of the Wilfs' finances was triggered by a New Jersey judge's ruling earlier this month that the Wilfs had committed fraud and breach of contract in a real estate deal in that state.
The authority, the public board overseeing development of the team's $975 million downtown Minneapolis stadium, ordered the deeper background check to make sure the court case, which could cost the Wilfs tens of millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages, wouldn't hurt the team's ability to help finance stadium construction.
The Vikings are responsible for $477 million of the construction cost, with the state of Minnesota and city of Minneapolis picking up the rest.
Tensions over the "due-dilgence" work bubbled up Friday, however, when an attorney with Dorsey & Whitney who is leading the probe, issued a statement saying that despite repeated requests, the Wilfs had to date "refused to provide us with any personal financial information that our advisors need to obtain comfort that the New Jersey court case will not impact their ability to meet their financial obligations."
The statement followed comments by Lester Bagley, Vikings vice president of public affairs, who had said the team was cooperating fully with the review and delivering the requested information.
Bagley said Tuesday that the team had previously shared financial data through a major bank. He said the paperwork provided Tuesday involved financial data "directly from the Wilfs."
"Today was progress," Bagley said.
What affect that "progress" will have on stadium negotiations and the construction timeline is unclear.
Late last week, the Vikings stopped negotiating with the authority on important stadium lease and development agreements until the due-diligence work is finished. Those agreements must be approved before the team secures all of its financing and the state issues taxpayer-backed bonds to pay for its share of the project.
Kelm-Helgen has said that if the team doesn't return to the negotiating table soon, stadium construction could be delayed by a month or more.
Project groundbreaking is tentatively scheduled for early November. The team and authority hope to open the stadium by July 2016.
Bagley said Tuesday that he believes the project is "still on time and on budget. We still feel like everything is on track."
So who will pay for the deeper legal and financial background check into Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and his family that was ordered up this week by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority?
If authority chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen has her way, the team and the owners will foot the bill.
Kelm-Helgen said Wednesday that the cost of the "normal" due diligence work required of the authority as it negotiates the final terms of the stadium deal is covered under the project's $975 million construction budget.
But she said any additional investigative work into the Wilfs' business background, especially as it relates to their recent legal troubles in New Jersey, will be charged to the team or its owners.
"As a public body, we think it's important that this additional work that needs to be done be covered by the Wilfs or the Vikings," she said.
The authority on Tuesday said that it had hired securites attorney Peter Carter, of the Dorsey & Whitney law firm, and FTI Consulting, an international forensic accounting firm, to conduct an extensive background investigation into Wilf and his family to see whether their legal troubles will affect their ability to help finance the stadium project..
The additional work stems from a finding last week by a New Jersey Superior Court judge in a long-pending lawsuit against Wilf and the family's real estate business. The judge said the family was guilty of fraud, breach of contract and violations of the state's civil racketeering statute in connection with a real estate partnership. The Wilfs were sued two decades ago by two business partners who alleged they were cheated out of more than $20 million over ownership of a 764-unit apartment project called Rachel Gardens, in Montville, N.J.
Gov. Mark Dayton later urged the stadium authority and its legal counsel to carefully review the owners and team commitments to the stadium project to ensure that they were "truthful and accurate."
The state of Minnesota and city of Minneapolis are responsible for $498 million of the $975 million construction cost with the team picking up the rest.
Kelm-Helgen said she has spoken with Vikings officials about the billing, but added "they haven't agreed to it."
Lester Bagley, the team's vice president for public affairs, said Wednesday that neither the Wilfs nor the Vikings "have a business relationship with Dorsey & Whitney or FTI." He declined further comment.
The more extensive background work comes as the Vikings and stadium authority near final negotiations on stadium lease and development agreements. The two sides had hoped to sign off on both at the authority's Aug. 23 meeting, but have pushed final action to a later date.
Kelm-Helgen and Bagley said the delay shouldn't disrupt plans to break ground on the project sometime in mid to late October.
Turns out, there’ll be no big bang.
Instead, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome will be torn down piece by piece once the Minnesota Vikings finish out their final NFL season in the downtown Minneapolis venue.
Michele Kelm-Helgen, chairwoman of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which is overseeing the construction of the team’s new stadium on the Metrodome site, said Tuesday that demolition work could begin as early as February, assuming the Vikings qualify for post-season play and host a playoff game in January.
She said demolition crews will spend about six weeks removing pieces of the stadium that can be salvaged or recycled and deflating and removing its roof. After that, crews would begin tearing down the stadium walls and foundation.
Kelm-Helgen said Mortenson Construction, the builder of the new stadium, recently decided on the staged teardown rather than the big bang option because the building is "so close to so many other downtown businesses."
Groundbreaking on the new stadium is set for October in a parking area east of the Dome. The new stadium is scheduled to open in time for the 2016 NFL season.
Updated at 8:18 p.m.
By Eric Roper and Richard Meryhew
Minneapolis political and business leaders gathered at the Guthrie Theater Monday night to witness the unveiling of designs for the new, $975 million Vikings stadium.
The Star Tribune is live streaming the event here.
At nearly a billion dollars, the new stadium will have giant pivoting glass doors that open to the downtown Minneapolis skyline and a roof that, while not retractable, will let in so much sunlight come Sunday afternoons, fans will feel as though they’re sitting outdoors.
Seven stadium decks will wrap around a field of artificial turf and two giant high tech scoreboards will sit at each endzone.
At 1.6 million square feet, the stadium will be nearly twice the size of the outdated Dome. It’ll seat 65,000 fans for NFL games but accommodate up to 73,000 for special events, such as the Super Bowl.
The skyline’s newest addition will be asymmetrical and almost diamond-like in its shape, featuring sharp angles and a roof line that rises to a peak on the west end, which doubles as the building’s grand entryway. From the side, the west end juts out, resembling the prow of a ship or a jagged iceberg.
Clear story windows will run around the the stadium walls just under the roof line, with the signature feature being a glass curtain wall on the stadium’s west end. Five, 95-foot-tall pivoting glass doors that open at concourse level will allow fans to enter and exit and socialize on a plaza — more than two acres in size — just outside the stadium before, during and after games.
Conspicuous by its absence is a retractable roof, a key feature that the team and authority pursued and one that many fans, longing for a return to outdoor football, wanted to see.
To compensate, and give fans a feeling that they are outdoors, architects created openings for natural light.
Gov. Mark Dayton, speaking ahead of the unveiling, emphasized the jobs that it would create.
"I'm just so excited about tonight because it makes this stadium one step closer to reality," Dayton said. "And it's closer to the time then when they're going to dig into the ground and thousands of Minnesotans are going to go to work building that stadium. And then operating it after it's started...This is first and foremost an economic development project."
He also praised stadium supporters on the Minneapolis City Council in the room for their "heroic effort that you made in the face of some I thought pretty unreasonable opposition."
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said the building would tie together different parts of the city.
"You've got one of the greatest downtowns in the world," Rybak said. "You have this amazing University. You have the riverfront. You have the riverfront, you have great neighborhoods. But they're all separated.
"It's like the Metrodome was a space ship that landed and everybody ran from the martians," he added. "So now we've got a space ship landing and everybody loves those wonderful martians from outer space."
Two hundred tickets to the event were made available on a first-come-first serve basis at the Metrodome on Monday.
Following the presentation, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority voted to send the designs to the city of Minneapolis, which has four months to review and sign off on them.
In her introductions, Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority chair Michele Kelm-Helgen highlighted the non-NFL uses of the new stadium.
"What we're really building is a state of the art, indoor, statewide park of sorts that will be used by thousands of Minnesotans throughout the years," Kelm-Helgen said.
The Vikings posted a stadium fly-through just after Dayton's speech. Here are some screen grabs.