Stadium timeline back on track after Wilf review

2:11 AM, Sep 14, 2013   |    comments
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Zygi Wilf

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Vikings and the stadium authority may reach a deal on a lease in a matter of days, paving a way for a vote by the stadium board at the end of the month.

The pace of negotiations accelerated this week with the completion of the financial due diligence review of the Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, which confirmed they have the wherewithal to cover their $477 million share of the stadium project.

"We did a very, very deep thorough investigation," Michele Kelm-Helgen, the chair of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority,  or MSFA, told reporters Friday.

"And really what it's been about is identifying any potential risks for the state."

Kelm-Helgen and Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley both said Friday there's a good chance board will be able to approve the lease at its Sept. 27 meeting.

That would make it possible for the team to meet its goal of securing financing by November 1, and allow the ground breaking for the new Minneapolis stadium to happen during November as originally scheduled.

"We've lost a lot of our wiggle room, but it can still be done," Bagley told KARE, referring to the time lost to the MSFA's review of the Wilfs.

This chapter in the stadium saga began August 5th, when New Jersey Judge Deanne Wilson ruled that Mark and Zygi Wilf and their cousin Leonard Wilf were liable for punitive damages in a lawsuit that began in 1992.

Judge Wilson found that the Wilfs had deprived their business partners a fair share of profits from a large apartment complex, but won't rule on the amount of damages until October.

It's just one of many residential, commercial and office properties owned and managed by the Wilf's Garden Companies. And the Wilf's are likely to appeal the verdict, extending the life of the 21-year-old legal dispute.

But when Judge Wilson asserted from the bench that the Wilfs' business practices had violated that state's civil fraud laws, Gov. Mark Dayton called for the stadium board to take a second look at the team's financial standing.

"As we sit here to today we don't know what the judge will decide with respect to damages, so we had to do a worst case analysis," Peter Carter, the Minneapolis attorney who led the due diligence review, told reporters.

"That meant analyzing New Jersey law, talking to experts, taking a look at the trial transcript and taking a look at what the plaintiffs were pursuing in that case."

He said that his team and FTI, a financial forensics company hired to assist, examined equity in the Wilf's real estate holdings as well as underwriting files used by US Bank to issue previous loans to the Wilf group.

"We reviewed thousands of pages of information. We had access to Wilf's personal financial information," Carter explained.

"FTI assured us, based on the significant holdings the Wilfs had, that they were able to meet their obligations with the stadium."

Kelm-Helgen shared a new letter from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, assuring the MFSA that the league is still behind the project and the Twin Cities market.

Goodell's letter also reconfirmed something most legislators understood when they voted for the stadium bill, that if the Wilfs were to sell the Vikings that the lease agreement would be honored by the next owner.

"We certainly have hit a rough spot along the way, but our work with the Vikings has been very positive," Kelm-Helgen remarked.

"And I believe it will continue to be so."

She said that the Wilfs drive a hard bargain in stadium negotiations, but that shouldn't surprise anyone.

"You know they've become successful business people for a reason. I hope we can say we've protected the public, which is our job."

Carter's report also pointed out a provision of New Jersey law, which dictates any civil case resulting in punitive damages must be referred to local prosecutors and the state's attorney general for review.

Carter and Kelm-Helgen said there's no reason to believe that mandatory investigation would lead to criminal charges in the New Jersey apartment complex case.

They said it was included in the report merely as a matter of transparency, so the public would know of every possible scenario.

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