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CCE IN THE NEWS

Source: New York Times

Name That Dog Park: Suffolk Courts Deals for Cash

BY ANNIE CORREAL

Posted: March 23, 2009
Originally Published: March 22, 2009

SUFFOLK COUNTY has invited companies to buy naming rights to the county’s parks, part of an effort to generate additional revenue from county property that began four years ago but has become more urgent with the economic downturn.

County officials said they hoped that county assets — especially the 30 public parks with shorefronts and campgrounds —would draw private sponsors. The county has focused on opportunities for advertising on its campsites and hiking trails, three golf courses and two dog parks.

“In a perfect world, you would be naming every asset after some do-gooder, but these times require us to get money,” said Steve Levy, the county executive.

In the request for bids, which are due April 2, county officials said that the effort was aimed at helping the county “offset the anticipated loss of revenues from traditional sources,” like the sales tax. The county projects a budget shortfall of $115 million in 2009. Although corporate budgets are pinched, advertising experts said the county might cash in with naming rights.

Matthew D. Pace, a corporate lawyer with a specialty in naming rights, said advertisers were looking for nontraditional ways to reach consumers, and at the same time, more people were going to free public parks and beaches.

“In this economy, people don’t want to pay to do things,” Mr. Pace said.

“If they go to the beach and Pepsi, for example, is keeping the beach clean, maintaining the parking lot and generally making that experience better, that’s going to work favorably for them,” he said, referring to advertisers.

Conservation groups said they worry about the well-being of parkland if it is parceled up and renamed.

“It does not change the natural resource, but it clearly changes the perception of the natural resource,” said Adrienne Esposito, head of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a conservation and environmental group based in Farmingdale. “It gives a commercial or corporate image to something that is supposed to be public space, and that could open the door for the land to be devalued."

In 2005, Mr. Levy created a committee of county officials to sell naming rights on county land, memorials and public buildings.

The committee settled on the parks department as a pilot project because, according to county officials, there are fewer legal limitations on selling naming rights on parks than on public buildings, and parks offer unique opportunities for advertisers to reach a targeted audience. For example, Mr. Levy said, the county could name a camp site after Coleman, the camping-equipment company.

Mr. Pace, the lawyer, warned that even if companies express interest, it can be a challenge for a public entity — in this case, the county — to strike naming rights deals.

“You have to choose sponsors with a message that is consistent with the place and its users, you have to make sure if they’re product-related, that it’s suitable for the area,” he said. “You have to make sure that the public entity has the proper termination rights — what if you had Bernie Madoff’s name on a beach?”

The county’s only corporate contract now is with Citibank, which in 2000 opened Citibank Park, the baseball stadium in Central Islip where the Long Island Ducks play. The 10-year contract pays the county $230,000 a year. Mr. Levy said that he hoped Citibank would renew its contract, which expires this year, but that the park name would be offered to other companies, too.

Selling naming rights is not uncommon in the region. Naming rights to the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater provide the state $380,000 a year. Naming rights were also sold for KeySpan Park in Brooklyn and Icahn Stadium on Randalls Island.

Nassau County is poised to sign an agreement with Clear Channel Communications to sell 65 digital signs outside the six major county parks for $86 million in ad revenue over 20 years.

Suffolk is not trying to break any records by selling naming rights on its parks, Mr. Levy said. “We have no idea how much money we could get from this,” he said. “Any money we get is gravy.”