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Opinion: Cities contend with depressing revenues

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Corporate sponsors are the new antidepressants for cities.

Corporations nationwide are building their brands in the name of helping shore up the public coffers in cities where they conduct business. In essence, companies are turning deflated municipal revenues into goodwill gestures and branding opportunities, and city leaders are glad to tap into the naming rights pool.

Welcome to the vast movement of private dollars onto public spaces in major cities across the country. Chicago is considered a leader in these scenarios – not by strategic design but out of financial necessity.

In Springfield, Mediacom is perhaps the best example, having agreed to pay the city $2 million for 10-year naming rights to both the city’s ice park, where the Missouri State University Hockey Bears and Springfield Wolfpack play, and the professional tennis complex, home of the Springfield Lasers.

Chicago’s 25-acre Millennium Park alone is marked by at least a dozen sponsors with its BP Bridge, AT&T Plaza, Wrigley Square, McDonald’s Cycle Center, Chase Promenade, Boeing Galleries and Excelon Pavilions. Philadelphia claims the AT&T Station subway stop, and Barclays PLC owns the rights to a Brooklyn, N.Y., subway stop.

Should the trend spill into mid-tier cities, here’s what it could look like in Springfield:
  • O’Reilly Automotive Terminal (City Utilities’ Boonville bus station)
  • Expedia Overpass (new Kansas Expressway bridge over the BNSF railroad)
  • Reckitt Benckiser Recycling Center (Springfield’s Yardwaste Recycling Center)
  • Nestlé Purina Nature Center (Springfield Conservation Nature Center)
  • SRC Commuter Lot (MoDOT’s car-pool lot at Highway 65 and Evans Road)
  • Springfield Underground Courthouse of Greene County (historic county building)
  • Bass Pro Shops Diverging Diamond (National Avenue overpass at James River Freeway)
  • Dynamic Earth Botanical Center (Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center)
  • Grizzly Industrial Boathouse & Marina (Lake Springfield Park Boathouse & Marina)
  • BKD Art Center (Creamery Art Center)
  • 3M Art House (Springfield Art Museum)
  • Loren Cook Co. Gardens (Japanese Stroll Garden at Nathanael Greene Park)
  • Great Southern Lake (Springfield or Fellows lakes)
  • Andy’s Frozen Custard Family Fun Park (Jordan Valley Park)
  • Hobby Lobby Family Center (Chesterfield Family Center)
  • Simon Medical Plaza at St. John’s Springfield Campus (nonprofit hospital)
  • Pyramid Foods Park (Phelps Grove neighborhood park)
  • Brewer Science Square (Park Central Square)
  • Northstar Battery Power Plant (CU’s Southwest II)
  • AT&T Flyover (new interchange at highways 60 and 65)
  • Springfield Grocer Museum of History (History Museum for Springfield-Greene County)
  • Chase Taxiway (to the new runway at Springfield-Branson National Airport)
Love or hate the idea, it’s a reality to contemplate. And it already exists on varying levels, historically with athletic arenas.

We’ve become most familiar with the names of individual donors hanging on public buildings and parks or nonprofit facilities they’ve funded.

In perhaps a test of these waters locally, Gillioz Theatre officials sought funding from the community, including businesses, to keep it afloat and out of bankruptcy. While I don’t know if theater naming rights were on the table, we know anything can be bought for the right price.

The game gets more complex and the stakes get higher, again, in Chicago, where companies can buy the right to decorate certain intersections, specifically the bridge houses along busy street crossings over the Chicago River. The city has hired a marketing agency to handle the contracts that run as much as $140,000 a month to decorate the public space for one month leading into specified holidays.

Chicago – and the entire Illinois government – contends, perhaps, with California as the best case study in how not to handle public funds.

It’s certainly not a fiscally sound example to follow, but maybe these cities are onto something to bridge municipal funding gaps stemming from low real estate and sales tax receipts, on top of a mishandling of public funds.

But are we that desperate? Maybe so.

Springfield Business Journal Editor Eric Olson can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.[[In-content Ad]]

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