April 29th, 2006

If Price Is Right, City Sights Will Carry New Name Tags

By Gary Washburn
Chicago Tribune

It turns out the skyway is not the limit when it comes to naming rights for the city of Chicago.

Even as the Daley administration seeks a company willing to pay big bucks to put its corporate logo on the Southeast Side toll road, City Hall on Friday issued a “request for proposals” to marketing firms interested in surveying city buildings, events, programs and even vehicles and then seeking corporate sponsors willing to shell out money to be associated with them.

The Budweiser Taste of Chicago? The Poland Spring Water Filtration Plant? Who knows?

Mountain Dew, Chicago’s official soft drink? Could be.

Hollywood Casino’s City Hall? Penthouse Magazine’s Millennium Park? Don’t hold your breath. The city isn’t that hard up for cash, and officials say there will be certain standards here.

“The corporate image would have to be consistent with the city’s values,” said city Budget Director Paul Volpe. “I would say that anything that does not violate or put in jeopardy the city’s reputation or world class image is on the table.”

Officials studied the possibility of offering sponsorships in a similar vein six years ago, and nothing came of it. But Friday’s action signals a new and serious look at the feasibility of the money-making concept.

“The Civic Federation strongly encourages the city to pursue marketing and other opportunities for its existing assets,” said Laurence Msall, president of the tax watchdog organization. “We believe that, while not a replacement, the marketing potential of these assets could diminish the need for significant tax increases.”

Volpe would not hazard an estimate on the marketing value of city buildings and programs, but officials expect the Chicago Skyway naming rights deal alone to generate about $3 million a year.

Sponsorship programs are common in cities around the country, officials said. Chicago currently has its own sponsorships in an approach that has been somewhat hit and miss. Various city festivals, for example, have corporate backing. They include Taste of Chicago, though no company has produced a check dazzlingly large enough to get its name in the official title of the eating and music fest.

Various components of Millennium Park also bear the names of corporations that contributed money for the popular attraction at Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street, though the cash helped cover construction costs rather than provide the city with operating cash.

Volpe said it’s possible that, once proposals from bidders are in on what he termed “a strategic approach to maximize value,” the city could decide to do nothing more than that it does now.

“But I don’t think that will be a likely result,” he said.

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