FAIRFIELD — In the age of Oracle Arena and Sleep Train Pavilion, the public facilities landscape in Solano County remains relatively commercial-free.
It’s the Fairfield Transportation Center and Allan Witt Park, in honor of a late City Council member. Local governments haven’t been selling naming rights to the highest bidders to raise more cash.
The idea is being discussed elsewhere, though. Rep. Jan Angel (R-Wash.) earlier this year proposed letting state and local governments in that state sell naming rights.
Angel is particularly interested in selling naming rights for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to avoid steep toll increases. But her interest goes beyond that.
“The government has a lot of infrastructure,” Angel said in a press release. “We have buildings, parks, bridges and water towers, just to name a few. The bill creates a framework which authorizes public agencies to sell the right to name a room, a building, a dock or any infrastructure, even a park bench.”
It’s been done elsewhere. Philadelphia sold the naming rights for a transit station to AT&T for $5 million over five years. Virginia struck a $2 million annual deal that includes having GEICO Insurance sponsor 43 highway rest areas as “safe phone zones.”
“By partnering with the private sector, we are not only keeping our rest areas open, but we are making our roads safer by discouraging distracted driving,” Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said in a press release.
So could Fairfield help save its embattled Center for Creative Arts by allowing it to be named after a soda? Could it make big bucks for city coffers by naming its transportation center after a tire company?
Fairfield Mayor Harry Price didn’t rule out the naming rights idea. He talked more about naming civic buildings after benefactors, such as is the case with the Mondavi Center at the UC Davis. The late Napa Valley wine giant Robert Mondavi donated $10 million for the performing arts center.
“That’s appropriate,” Price said.
Fairfield initially planned to name its Police Activities League center in honor of the late Billy Yarbrough for his donations through the years to local youth groups, Price said. The Yarbrough family later decided the center should be named after Matt Garcia, the Fairfield city councilman who was shot and killed in 2008.
That’s a long way from a soda or tire company.
Perhaps the biggest local push on the naming rights front has come from the Solano Land Trust.
The Land Trust last year was trying to raise $13.5 million to buy the 1,500-acre Rockville Trails Estates property in the hills above Suisun and Green valleys. Large grants from the state and foundations provided much, but not all of, the needed money.
Then the Land Trust came up with a pitch: For $1 million, a donor could name the Rockville Trails Estates park-to-be.
“I think for the business community, they look at it as a marketing tool,” Land Trust Executive Director Nicole Byrd said. “There’s an expense and a benefit for that.”
But the Land Trust got no takers for the $1 million offer. It will name the future park’s parking lot for Syar Industries, the regional building materials company that donated $75,000. Naming rights for the park as a whole, key vistas and trails are still available.
A couple of months ago, the Land Trust did get a $1 million donation, but not for the Rockville Trails Estates purchase. The donor to date has avoided even announcing his or her name, much less putting it on a local landmark.
While local cities haven’t plunged headfirst into the naming-rights auction business, they are trying to raise money from the private sector in other ways. Like many cities, Fairfield and Suisun City have made advertising available on buses and at bus stops. The two cities are served by Fairfield and Suisun Transit, or FAST.
“We have a little bit, but so far advertising projects have not been that successful,” Fairfield Assistant Public Works Director for Transportation Wayne Lewis said. “There’s been some ads out there, but we haven’t really garnered a lot of funding from it.”
Advertising at the bus shelters raises issues of vandalism and maintenance, he said.
Some cities and counties have advertising wrapped around their buses, making the buses virtual moving billboards. FAST has used a lower-key approach of putting placards on some of its buses. Lewis said the goal is to make room for some advertising while keeping the buses from being ugly and keeping the FAST brand prominent.
FAST should be able to make tens of thousands of dollars a year through advertising, rather than the few thousand that it does, Lewis said. It’s an issue the transit agency will explore further.
Fairfield has never seriously looked at selling the naming rights for the Fairfield Transportation Center, Lewis said. Having “Fairfield” in the name makes the destination obvious to riders, he said.
Solano County has gone the advertising route to make some money for its fairgrounds. It sells space on the electronic message sign located on the fairgrounds in view of the traffic passing by on Interstate 80.
Again, though, the income is hardly enough to let taxpayers off the hook. The Solano County Fair Association is hoping to bring in $175,000 in sign revenue this year for its $3 million budget.
County Supervisor Jim Spering sees some additional opportunities as the county tries to redevelop the fairgrounds. For example, naming rights could be sold for the planned exhibition hall, he said.
The Solano Irrigation District delivers water to county farmers in canals. It is looking at turning some of its land along Interstates 80 and 505 into moneymakers by allowing billboards there. If billboards go up at all eight potential sites, the billboards could bring in $213,000 annually, a district report said.
It’s not a done deal yet. First, jurisdictions where the billboards could go up – rural Solano County, Vacaville and Dixon – must grant approval. So must the state Department of Transportation.
The district has been exploring everything and anything to find ways to reduce costs to customers amid the slow economy, district Director of Engineering Paul Fuchslin said.
“That’s really the bottom line,” he said. “This was a way to find another revenue source.”
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.