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Nanaimo considers sponsorship of buildings

Bill McKay, Nanaimo city councillor, sees corporate sponsorships and naming rights as a way to offset rising maintenance and operating costs of public facilities such as Frank Crane Arena. - CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin
Bill McKay, Nanaimo city councillor, sees corporate sponsorships and naming rights as a way to offset rising maintenance and operating costs of public facilities such as Frank Crane Arena.
— image credit: CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

Selling the names of civic facilities to corporate sponsors could pump millions of dollars into city coffers, according to a Nanaimo city councillor supporting a look at naming rights.

The City of Nanaimo is exploring the potential to cash in on naming rights for playing fields to public buildings, with aims to fill budget gaps and raise new revenue.

It’s not alone. Cash-strapped municipalities across the country are looking to corporate sponsors for alternative  revenue to keep taxes down and user fees in line.

While there is criticism that the economic returns and privatization of public spaces isn’t worth the sale of naming rights, local governments that have partnered with corporations say deals have been a win.

The Cowichan Valley Regional District named its Cowichan Community Centre after Island Savings in a $1-million, 10-year deal that pays for annual capital improvements for the facility while the Regional District of North Okanagan covers the operating costs for Kal-Tire Place – a multi-purpose arena – with a four-year $145,000 contract.

Coun. Bill McKay and Mayor John Ruttan both see the potential for sponsors to help the City of Nanaimo in similar ways.

Naming rights deals for ice sheets to parks and arenas could generate multi-million dollars in new revenue to fund more trails, fields rinks and facilities without the need for higher taxes, McKay said.

“I know there is a desire for more fields in Nanaimo, more trails, more parks, more rinks, more ice – so this could be a great way of just looking out of the box and seeing what opportunities may be out there,” McKay said. “Could we change the name of Frank Crane [Arena] to the Telus Centre and create revenue from that?”

Nanaimo city officials will mull the potential to get corporate sponsorships – and the facility names it has available to sell – during a workshop this December.

According to city staff members sponsorship isn’t a complete departure for Nanaimo, which has a 20-year naming deal for the Port Theatre. Arena advertising and third-party events, like skating, are also part of deals with companies.

But this would mean taking naming rights and sponsorships to a bigger level, said Suzanne Samborski, the new head of the city’s culture department.

In 2008, the Cowichan Community Centre was named Island Savings, which had its logo splashed across the front of the building.

Ron Austen, general manager of parks, recreation and culture for the Cowichan Valley Regional District said quite a few people believed the community centre shouldn’t be named after a corporation. But “on the other side it also helps keep that building running and operating and improvements given without having tax dollars invested into it,” he said.

The North Okanagan regional district would have seen a revenue loss if it hadn’t signed a deal with Kal-Tire to help pay the operating costs.

But Dr. Reuben Rose-Redwood, a University of Victoria geographer studying naming rights across the country, said not all communities are jumping on board. Statistics show just over 14 per cent of municipalities in Canada have some naming right agreement in place and close to seven per cent are currently considering deals, leaving 78 per cent without.

Rose-Redwood is convinced there is low economic return for small and medium-sized communities, which offer corporations less visibility and smaller entertainment markets than Toronto or New York. There could also be costs to create a sponsorship campaign and questions about the limits public spaces should be commercialized.

These are public buildings, paid for with the public purse, Rose-Redwood said.

“By slapping a corporate name on it, basically it’s privatizing public space,” he said.

Nanaimo’s mayor, however, says the opportunities for corporate sponsorship should be considered.

It would have to be the right fit for Nanaimo – not “Harry’s Marijuana sponsoring a building or anything,” he said. But he sees the potential to advance the timetable on capital projects sooner with outside money and upgrades for facilities the city currently doesn’t have the money to fix, like Caledonia Park.

“If someone came along and said I really want to put money into it. I want to pay half a million dollars and really upgrade it and I want to call it Acme Building Caledonia Park, I don’t see a problem with it,” Ruttan said.

The city meets with the Sponorship Group to talk about opportunities Dec.17. The meeting is open to the public.

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