Hoping to close the door on public funding for pro sports facilities without the people's OK, an ad hoc group of Ramsey County leaders publicly launched a petition drive Friday to require a referendum before tax dollars can be used to build a Minnesota Vikings stadium in Arden Hills.
The No Stadium Tax Coalition announced it will try to collect nearly 15,000 signatures to put the question on the November ballot. If approved, Ramsey's charter would be amended to bar the use of "tax revenues, bonding authority, or any other county resources" to build or operate a pro sports facility unless approved by a majority of voters.
Shoreview City Council Member Ady Wickstrom, who chairs the coalition, said the signature drive will show state leaders that Ramsey County citizens want to decide for themselves whether to finance the stadium.
"We hope the Legislature pays attention to us," she said.
Ramsey County Commissioners Tony Bennett and Rafael Ortega are leading an effort to use a food and beverage tax to fund the county's $350 million share of a proposed $1.1 billion stadium at Arden Hills' former ammunitions plant.
Although the Vikings also are looking at downtown Minneapolis sites, team officials say that Arden Hills remains their strong preference. Bennett and the Vikings declined to comment Friday.
More than 500 signatures have been collected from residents in a pre-petition effort, Wickstrom said.
"Their eyes just lit up when they saw the charter amendment petition," she said. "They want to be able to vote on this."
The coalition decided to pursue the charter amendment after the county attorney's office Thursday rejected language in a proposed ordinance they had hoped to put before the voters in a special election this year. Wickstrom said those changes gutted the ordinance.
The group turned instead to amending the county's charter, unique among Minnesota's 87 counties and something akin to a constitution. The County Board can't overrule the charter, but views differ on whether state laws can supersede it.
The coalition's leadership team includes two members of Ramsey's charter commission, Rod Halvorson and Bryan Olson, and former Arden Hills City Council Member Gregg Larson.
Wickstrom said the coalition has lined up 70 to 80 volunteers so far to collect signatures through door-to-door canvassing, camping out on street corners or inviting people into their homes.
"I set up office in my car and let people know where I was" by putting up a pink ribbon, she said.
Not everyone in the group is opposed to using public money for a pro stadium; Wickstrom, for one, said she would accept some public subsidy. But she said everyone is united by the belief that public money shouldn't be used without a referendum to approve it.
The coalition, technically a political action committee, has a website and a Facebook page. Wickstrom said the group has a list of 1,300 people waiting to sign the petition.
Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455