MSFA board members continued to use suites after investigation began

By Mike Kaszuba 

New documents reveal that some Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) board members continued to utilize free access to suites at US Bank Stadium even after an official investigation into the practice began late last year.

The records, obtained by Public Record Media, a St. Paul non-profit, show that several board members – including Michele Kelm-Helgen, the former board chair who resigned over the controversy – used the stadium authority’s suites free of charge during Minnesota Vikings football games in mid-December and January.  According to the newly released records, some of the board members also received free parking.

However, the latest records do show that by December, board members had stopped giving free tickets to friends and family members – the practice that brought the loudest public criticism when it was first disclosed by the Minneapolis Star Tribune in late November.  In the wake of the Star Tribune stories, Minnesota’s legislative auditor announced an investigation into the MSFA’s suite use policies.

MSFA board members attended Vikings games with marketing guests

Three members of the MSFA’s five-person board – Kelm-Helgen, Bill McCarthy and Tony Sertich – attended a Vikings’ game on New Year’s Day, and had their suite tickets paid for by the stadium authority.  Records show that two of them – McCarthy and Sertich – also received parking paid for by the public body.

Documents show that Kelm-Helgen and Ted Mondale, the MSFA’s former executive director, attended the December 18th Vikings’ game against the Indianapolis Colts free of charge.  (Mondale also later resigned his position in light of the controversy).

Records also reveal that on the same day, the stadium authority hosted guests Austin Karrow from Eden Prairie-based Gunnar Electric, and Laura Karrow from the Association of Women Contractors.  Other MSFA guests included Joel and Beth Akason of Greater MSP, a regional economic development agency.  In each instance, the MSFA said that the guests were there for stadium marketing purposes.  “We did not require payment as we were marketing to the individuals that were invited to the suite,” Jenn Hathaway, an MSFA spokesperson, told PRM.

MSFA board members, SMG marketed stadium

While the stadium authority had been criticized for giving free suite access to friends and family members, the MSFA said board members themselves needed to attend events to help market US Bank Stadium, even though a management company had been hired to perform the same task.

The newest records show that both the stadium authority and SMG, the Philadelphia-based management company hired to help market the stadium, were hosting guests at Vikings games.  Documents obtained by PRM reveal that while the MSFA was hosting marketing prospects at the December 18th Vikings game, SMG was doing the same.  On December 18th, SMG’s Jerry Goldman hosted three Feld Sports officials in the stadium authority’s suites in connection with a planned “Monster Jam” event.

Similarly, Goldman hosted nine Feld Sports officials and guests free-of-charge in an MSFA suite during the Vikings’ game on January 1st.  It was the same day that three MSFA board members – Kelm-Helgen, McCarthy and Sertich – also used the suite free of charge.

After a February report by the state legislative auditor had criticized the stadium authority’s suite use practices, some state legislators were also critical of the MSFA’s assertion that it needed to use the suites to help market U.S. Bank Stadium.  Legislators noted that SMG had already been hired to do the same job.