The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

August 23, 2013

Official warns of hitch on Minn. Vikings stadium

MINNEAPOLIS — The public authority overseeing construction of a new Minnesota Vikings stadium warned Friday that the opening could be delayed if the team doesn't quickly resume negotiations on lease and development agreements.

Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen said the team unexpectedly broke off negotiations a day earlier, saying it wanted to wait until a review was completed on its ability to finance its $477 million share of the nearly billion-dollar stadium.

Kelm-Helgen said the agreements need to be in place by Sept. 15 to avoid delays. The project timeline calls for breaking ground on the taxpayer-subsidized stadium on Nov. 7 and completing it ahead of the 2016 football season.

Kelm-Helgen wouldn't identify the major issues separating the two sides on the agreements, calling them "substantial" but well within reach. At the authority's regular meeting Friday, she said it was a surprise when the Vikings broke off talks. Delay in those agreements would delay the team's financing and eventually a state bond sale.

"We felt like it was important we have an alert that our (construction) schedule could be in jeopardy," Kelm-Helgen said. That could eventually mean cost overruns for taxpayers.

Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley said the team was confident the stadium would stay on schedule. But he said the due diligence review was having a negative effect on the talks, an allusion to the closer examination of owners Zygi and Mark Wilf's family finances after a New Jersey judge found they had defrauded a business partner in a past development deal. Gov. Mark Dayton has said his confidence in the Wilfs was shaken and said an audit was necessary before the public commits $498 million of taxpayer money.

"We can't have partnership negotiations when we're not at the table as partners," Bagley said.

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