Nanaimo city hall. (News Bulletin file)

City of Nanaimo looks at corporate names for civic facilities

Finance and audit committee recommends approving plan to create policy around facility naming rights

The City of Nanaimo is once again moving toward creating a sponsorship policy, which if adopted, could see corporate names plastered on publicly owned-buildings throughout the municipality.

During a finance and audit committee meeting on Feb. 19, city councillors unanimously recommended that they approve a plan to create a sponsorship policy at a future council meeting.

A sponsorship policy would help the city generate new sources of revenue by selling the naming rights to playing fields, public buildings such as arenas and pools, and even programs. According to a staff report, the city would hire an organization to conduct a feasibility study and value its existing assets in an effort to determine how much revenue naming rights could be generated from them. The city would also hire an organization to develop its sponsorship policy and strategic plan, which would outline who the city would accept money from, where the money would be directed and the role councillors would have throughout the process.

No cost estimates were provided, but the city expects to have the work completed between June and November of this year, according to the report, which notes that once those steps are completed, the city would begin implementing the policy and seeking our potential sponsors.

A report from the Partnership Group, an Alberta-based sponsorship consulting firm that was hired by the city last year, suggests that nearly 50 per cent of all Canadian municipalities have sold naming rights. It also states that the city could earn anywhere from $350,000 to $500,000 by selling the naming rights to its various facilities as well as the naming rights to programming.

This is not the first time the city has kicked around the idea of crafting a sponsorship policy. In 2014, councillors seriously considered a sponsorship policy and a six-member city-committee was even created to help craft one. However, the idea fizzled out in 2015, following the election of a new council in late 2014.

RELATED: Policy sets groundwork for sponsorships

RELATED: Report outlines Nanaimo’s sponsorship program

RELATED: Nanaimo considers sponsorship of buildings

During the Feb. 19 meeting, Laura Mercer, the city’s director of finance, said developing a sponsorship policy would give the city a clear picture of how much money it could generate through naming rights to buildings and programs.

We know what buildings we have, but this would be determining what values,” she said.

Jake Rudolph, the city’s chief administrative officer, told councillors said the city relies heavily on taxation as its main source of revenue and needs to find additional sources. He said sponsorship, whether it be on public buildings or for city programs, is one way to bring in additional revenue.

“It’s a way to afford many of the requests that you see come through the finance and audit committee,” he said.

Even though councillors unanimously agreed to moving the proposed policy forward, some expressed personal concerns around allowing sponsorship of publicly owned facilities including Coun. Erin Hemmens who said the idea makes her uncomfortable.

“For me it’s distasteful, but ultimately practical,” she said.

Coun. Ian Thorpe said while he has some concerns, he understands the need for such a policy.

“When I look around our city, I notice a number of facilities that are named for longtime community volunteers that did not get their name on a building because they had piles of money … and we don’t want to lose that in our community,” he said. “But at the same time, I feel that we need a policy and this is setting us on the path to forming a policy.”

Coun. Tyler Brown said it doesn’t matter whether the policy is created through a phased approach or all at once because the whole concept of corporate sponsorship on city buildings doesn’t sit well with him.

“I think this is one of those issues that, I’ll be very honest, I’m extremely uncomfortable with,” he said. “The phasing of it will never change my discomfort of it. My discomfort is selling sponsorships.”

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said he wouldn’t have been comfortable with the idea 15 years ago, but understands that times have changed and the city needs to find additional revenue sources.

“At the end of the day, this has become common. Municipalities do it across this country and at a time when the needs of our city are growing and expanding, I think it is only right and proper that we take full advantage of every opportunity within legal means to raise money that would otherwise not be available for the citizens of this community,” he said. 
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