The new chairman of the U.S. Bank Stadium public authority stepped into the job on Friday amid fresh tension with the Vikings over two publicly owned luxury suites that were at the center of the recent leadership changes.
Mike Vekich took over the chairmanship of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) from Kathleen Blatz. She had served as interim chairwoman since February, when former Chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen and executive director Ted Mondale resigned following public reports they had used two 18-person luxury suites to entertain family, friends and political allies at taxpayer expense.
The MSFA’s board approved a $60,000 salary for Vekich’s part-time position. Another new board member, Best Buy executive Laura Bishop, also attended her first meeting, in which the suites again became an issue for a new reason.
After the resignations of Kelm-Helgen and Mondale, the MSFA ceded the two main concourse spaces to the stadium’s operator, SMG, which is directed to use them to market the building to current and future clients.
On Friday, the MSFA decided to allow SMG to sell the two suites for events that don’t involve the NFL or the Vikings. Blatz used the example of the upcoming U2 “Joshua Tree” concert as an opportunity to earn money by selling the high-dollar suites.
In response, Vikings Executive Vice President Lester Bagley said selling the suites would violate the 200-page use agreement negotiated by the team and the MSFA on building operations.
“The authority suites were gifted by the Vikings to the authority,” Bagley said, adding that they were to be used exclusively by the MSFA.
MSFA counsel Jay Lindgren disagreed, saying the Vikings control the stadium only during their events. He took issue with Bagley’s assertion; the stadium was built with a combination of state and city taxpayer dollars and money from the Vikings.
“These suites were not gifted by the Vikings to the MSFA,” Lindgren said. “I am very confident of this position.”
But Bagley said that selling the suites would be a unilateral change to the use agreement. “We have a long, hard-fought contract and this would violate the contract,” he said after the meeting.
He cited language in the use agreement that says the MSFA “shall have sole ownership of two suites for its exclusive use and possession” without any charge, license, use or other fee to all “team stadium events that are open to the public.”
This is the second time the MSFA and Vikings have disagreed about the terms of the agreement. Last year, Kelm-Helgen worked to bring in a professional soccer team, something the NFL team claimed it had exclusive rights to do. The issue resolved itself when the team signed to play elsewhere.
Of the new suites dispute, Vekich said after the meeting, “I’m sure we’ll come to a settlement; this will be resolved.” Asked for his opinion of the dispute, Vekich pointed to Lindgren’s assessment, saying, “Legal counsel was pretty clear.”
Blatz, in her final meeting, noted that the ribbon-cutting for the $1.1 billion stadium was one year ago. In addition to numerous events at the building, from sold-out Vikings games to the recent X Games, some 3,000 tours have been conducted drawing 88,000 guests.
Blatz also said there’s been a “meeting of the minds” with contractors and designers regarding the zinc panels on the exterior of the building. Some of the panels have flapped loose in heavy winds and storms. Blatz said that only 10 percent of the panels — all on the building’s northwest prow — need remediation.
In a statement, Mortenson executive John Wood said work would begin Monday on the exterior, and would be visible because some metal panels will be removed.
The changes will take several weeks but won’t disrupt any events, he said.
Gov. Mark Dayton dropped by Friday’s MSFA meeting at the stadium to thank Blatz, a former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, for bringing “impeccable credentials and incredible integrity” to the MSFA at a “moment of great difficulty.”