Rest assured Vikings fans, the new home for Vikings football remains on time and on budget.
Much has been said today by Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) officials and the media regarding the new multi-purpose stadium set to open in July 2016. Comments have been made about the Vikings decision to set aside negotiations on both the stadium’s use agreement (i.e., lease) and the project’s development agreement, and what the team’s move means for the construction timeline. Through all the noise, however, is this bottom line: stadium construction progress continues to move forward at a rapid pace.
The Vikings decision to hit "pause" on negotiations comes on the heels of the Authority’s inquiry into Vikings Owners Zygi and Mark Wilf’s financial background following a New Jersey judge’s recent comments on the well-documented private business dispute between the Wilfs and another international real estate family. The team and the Wilfs immediately stated that no matter the outcome of the dispute, which has lasted more than 20 years, been heard by four judges, and been covered extensively by the media in recent years, the decision will bear absolutely no impact on the Wilfs’ ability to guarantee and deliver $477 million in private financing toward the stadium project.
Since the MSFA’s inquiry, the Vikings and the Wilfs have fully cooperated with the due diligence process, providing detailed financial documents and background information. The team has also arranged visits between MSFA officials, the NFL and a consortium of banks, led by U.S. Bank. Both the NFL and the banks have stated their continued support of the stadium project, and the team and the Wilfs maintain their ability to fulfill their financial obligations to the stadium project.
The issue, however, is that the use agreement, which will govern the team’s 30-plus years at the new facility, and the development agreement, which will guide the construction process through opening day in 2016, are fundamental documents to this public-private partnership and should not be entered into lightly. In order to move forward on each of these, the MSFA must feel entirely confident about the Wilfs’ ability to fulfill their stadium obligations. The ongoing inquiry makes it clear the Authority currently feels it does not have that assurance. How can we finalize fundamental partnership documents without the full trust of our partner? Until the due diligence is complete and the MSFA has complete confidence in the Vikings organization, negotiations shouldn’t move forward. That means the only thing that could slow this project down is a prolonged due diligence process.
Unfortunately what may have been lost throughout today’s news is the substantial progress the MSFA and the Vikings continue to make on this project. Design documents are in their absolute final stages, which means a guaranteed maximum price can be established and groundbreaking can stay on track for late Fall 2013. Also, significant decisions were finalized - yet went nearly unnoticed - during the MSFA board meeting today. Those decisions included the completion of an environmental impact statement, the resolution of a project labor agreement, and the authorization for Mortenson Construction to self-perform the new facility’s concrete work. Each of these represents significant progress on the construction front.
Ultimately, Vikings fans should look beyond the rhetoric. Instead, let’s keep the focus on the fact that this exciting project remains a reality for the state, the city, the Vikings and our fans.