The builders of the new Vikings stadium say reports of $50 million overruns aren't true and add that smaller cost disputes can be covered by a contingency fund set up before construction started.
Their assertions, though, remain at odds with former GOP state Sen. Duane Benson, the outgoing treasurer of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the agency overseeing the stadium's construction. He says millions in disputed cost overruns lurk behind the scenes.
Benson, who in June announced his resignation from the five-member agency panel citing a governance dispute, estimates the unknown costs range from $30 million to $50 million. "It could be any number because it grows every day. It grows every week, I think $300,000," he said.
He added that agency chair Michele Kelm-Helgen and executive director Ted Mondale have overlapping responsibilities and may have left builders with the impression that there would be more money to pay for the project. Benson said he thought the problem could have been avoided.
Kelm-Helgen, however, says she's seen nothing that would back Benson's estimates.
"I have not seen any documentation from anyone that would validate that number," she said Thursday. "I don't see that there's any factual basis for that $50 million number."
Kelm-Helgen says there has been an ongoing dispute about what the project costs, and the parties have been discussing the money and what it will pay for on the project.
Stadium builder Mortenson Construction says it believes there are $15 million in outstanding change orders on the project that have not been funded, although more may arise in the final year of construction.
Kelm-Helgen says there is no actual cost overrun on the project, which had a guaranteed maximum price of $975 million from Mortenson when it broke ground, excluding additions made to the project after it started.
"We have currently sitting in our contingency almost $30 million ... $10 million over what our budget was scheduled to be in July of 2015," she said.
That would cover the unresolved charges from Mortenson nearly twice, she said, even if her agency agreed to pay what Mortenson was asking. Kelm-Helgen says her agency, including Benson, has been meeting privately to discuss how much of the contingency they're willing to turn over.
"The reason that we are negotiating these costs is that we do not believe that all of those costs are warranted to be paid by us," she added. "It's not like if you have the money to pay it why don't you just pay it. We don't believe we owe all that money."
The stadium's current price is estimated at about $1.08 billion. It's risen more than $100 million in the past 18 months but private financing has covered it. The Vikings have put more than $90 million above their original pledge for extras like bathroom upgrades, additional televisions and other amenities. The company that won the contract for the stadium food service put up another $10 million.
The cap for the public subsidy for the project is written into state law at $498 million. Spokespeople for both Gov. Mark Dayton and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said there would be no more public funding for the project at all, meaning taxpayers would not be responsible for overruns.
Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley also said the team doesn't believe Benson's $50 million figure is accurate, although he declined to be more exact.
Team officials say they may put more money in the project but wouldn't say whether that would only be available for future additions to the project or to cover any work that has already been done.