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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Riverfront Park exploring corporate sponsorships as part of redevelopment

FILE - The Riverfront Park Skating Ribbon has the grand opening, seen here on opening night in December 2017, is being floated as the first attraction that could receive a corporate naming sponsorship. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

For the right price, companies and individual donors in Spokane may be able to get their name on a piece of the new Riverfront Park.

Brett Sports & Entertainment, owner of the Spokane Chiefs and Spokane Indians sports franchises, is accepting proposals on behalf of the city for naming opportunities within the downtown park. Riverfront Park’s newest attraction, the skating ribbon, will likely be the first feature to receive a sponsored moniker.

“We’re obviously really sensitive about putting a name on everything that we can,” said Ted McGregor, chairman of the Spokane Park Board committee overseeing work in Riverfront Park. “With this, we can bring in a few extra bucks for programming and support, and create something that has a lot of notoriety in the community.”

There is no finalized list of what attractions could receive sponsored names, said Dave Pier, chief marketing officer for Brett Sports. The intent is to strike a balance between the park’s past and future, he said.

“What we’re excited about, is the park’s identity is going to change and expand,” Pier said. “But we also want to make sure it doesn’t look like NASCAR, either.”

The skating ribbon would be an ideal candidate for the first sponsored name, McGregor said, because it’s new and doesn’t have a legacy name attached to it. Other features, including the U.S. Pavilion or the newly rebuilt Howard Street Bridge, are also potential candidates for sponsorships, but officials should have public discussions first, McGregor said.

Brett Sports, which oversaw the naming process of the INB Performing Arts Center downtown, is working to develop sponsorship packages tailored to donors, both corporate and otherwise, he said.

“I think a lot of things on our roster are geared more toward family donors,” McGregor said. “I don’t think the list has a ton of corporate sponsorships.”

The firm signed a contract with the city in the fall to provide marketing for the naming effort. They’ll be paid up to $10,000 for that work, and receive a 20 percent commission on every sponsorship sale they broker, according to the terms of the contract.

Leroy Eadie, director of the Spokane Parks department, said through a spokeswoman the negotiated commission was “consistent with local industry standards.”

Pier said the cost was justified by the company’s expertise selling title sponsorships in the region.

“We want to make sure there’s a return on investment not only for the sponsor, but for the parks department as well, so they can continue doing what they’re doing in Riverfront Park,” Pier said.

The company received a 15 percent commission for work on the performing arts center; work which was estimated in 2006 to be worth $225,000 over a 10-year period. The building changed its name from the Spokane Opera House.

In anticipation of the sponsorship opportunities in Riverfront Park, the Spokane Park Board last fall adopted changes to its policies allowing for the naming of facilities on park land at the request of Parks Department officials. Under the new rules, a sponsorship contract worth more than $20,000 or lasting longer than five years would need to be approved by the autonomous Park Board. Contracts worth less than that or for a shorter period of time do not require approval.

In addition to naming rights, park officials are also directly asking for proposals to sponsor programming within the park, including holiday celebrations, discounted skating nights on the ribbon and other weekly events.

Sponsorship opportunities have been suggested as part of Riverfront Park’s redevelopment dating back to before voters approved the $64 million in bonds funding the project.

The master plan for the park’s redevelopment, a document adopted by the Spokane Park Board and Spokane City Council, highlights Millennium Park in Chicago as a model of public investment to spur private economic growth. That park, opened in 2004 also on the site of former industrial railyards, sold the naming rights to multiple attractions, some of which proved controversial – including a 300-space bicycle parking feature named for the fast food chain McDonald’s.

The Riverfront Park document also cites a 2011 survey of park directors nationwide by the group City Parks Alliance indicating nearly 3 in 4 of them relied on corporate sponsorship for some of their funding for maintenance and programming.

“This is pretty common,” McGregor said. “People are trying to raise money for ongoing needs.”

Hal McGlathery, who served as Riverfront Park manager from 1982 to 1996 and has been lobbying the Park Board to preserve pieces of the park’s history including its now mostly mothballed amusement rides, said he didn’t have a problem with current planners pursuing sponsorship opportunities.

“I think it’s modern day stuff,” McGlathery said. “I think there will be some sensitivity when deciding if they wanted to put a name on certain things.”

McGregor said it is not the intention for sponsorship money to fund further construction in the park, but to dedicate it to future maintenance needs. He pointed to the complicated renovation of the Rotary Fountain and the equipment failure that has prompted the current closure of the skating ribbon as evidence park officials needed to be forward-thinking.

“We just wanted to lay the groundwork for the future of the park to be a little more entrepreneurial, but also make sure it doesn’t break our local culture,” he said.