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The Vikings Are Coming! The Vikings Are Coming!
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The Vikings Are Coming! The Vikings Are Coming!

Wilf family troubles aside, the stadium will get built.

To: Ted Mondale
Executive Director
The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority

Dear Mr. Mondale:
For a number of years now, this modern-day Vikingland has been concerned that the Vikings were leaving. Ultimately, after the usual legislative battles, a deal was struck to build a new Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis. The original Vikings were not so warmly received. During the epic Battle of Maldon, August 10, 991, near Essex, England, a Viking force defeated the Anglo-Saxons; this was during the reign of Aethelred the Unready. The epic poem written about the battle and translated from Anglo-Saxon by Wilfrid Berridge contains the essence of our legislative arrangement with the current Vikings:

“… that you buy off this spear rush with your tax ….”

And that is exactly what we have tried to do.

Unlike Aethelred, our politicians were ready, and in 2012, the Legislature called for the State of Minnesota and the City of Minneapolis to pay $498 million for the new downtown Minneapolis stadium. The entire cost of that stadium is pegged at $975 million, with the Vikings (present day) responsible for the remainder. We know that $200 million of that amount will be an NFL loan. This is all somewhat ancient news.

However, other ancient news, in the guise of a 21-year-old lawsuit in New Jersey, has prompted a flurry of questions. In that case, and according to a rather complete series of articles first appearing in the Newark Star-Ledger of August 5 and 6, Judge Deanne Wilson accused the Wilfs of running what amounts to “organized crime–type activities” in their bookkeeping practices. Judge Wilson commented that Zygmunt Wilf and the other family defendants committed fraud, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and also violated the state’s civil racketeering statute.

But let’s be honest here: Even the local newspaper describes the New Jersey real estate market as “bare-knuckled”—more like the Vikings of old. And to survive in that environment, as the Wilfs have done for 58 years, requires some, shall we say, Viking-like behavior. Let me just note in passing that there are some unusual things that happen in New Jersey courts.

Thankfully, political leadership in this deal has appointed Michele Kelm-Helgen chair of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority. She is widely known as tough, disciplined, and smart. The authority has announced that it has hired Peter Carter of the Dorsey & Whitney law firm to conduct a due diligence review of the Vikings’ owner Zygi Wilf and the family’s real estate businesses. Both the firm and Carter are known in local and legal business circles as experienced and thorough. In addition, FTI Consulting, a forensic accounting firm, has also been retained to scrutinize the Wilf family litigation and to do extensive background checks as well.

The Viking deal is not in jeopardy for a number of reasons. Chief among them: There would be a large number of credit-worthy individuals or corporations eager to step into the Wilfs’ shoes, given that 65 percent of the funding of the new stadium is secured. The NFL’s $200 million loan is not in question either (the NFL has so stated), and the value of the Wilf’s Vikings holdings has increased rather dramatically since their purchase six years ago.

While the Battle of Maldon ended badly 1,022 years ago, the defenders, at least in the poem, did make it clear “Nor shall ye so softly carry off our riches . . . .” And so by the same token, we should not be speaking softly at this moment. A written guarantee with collateral rights securing the NFL’s $200 million loan should be secured (and easily forthcoming). Similarly, the Wilf family should be called upon to further collateralize their obligations with personal guarantees. Even better, the family should undertake to buy a certain percentage of the about-to-be-issued taxpayer-backed bonds. As large bondholders, the Wilfs would be further committed to building our community, much in the way the real Vikings gradually merged into their conquered communities.

This remains a good deal. This is not Nebraska, Iowa, the Dakotas, or western Wisconsin; this is, in a very real sense, Vikingland. The ground will be broken, the bonds will be sold, the Vikings might even make it back to the playoffs. This ship has left the fjord.

Vance K. Opperman
A fan of Vikings

Vance K. Opperman (vopperman@keyinvestment.com) is owner and CEO of MSP Communications, which publishes Twin Cities Business.

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