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Paul Turner: Naming rights for Riverfront Park attractions could earn revenue and ridicule

FILE - Construction of the Looff Carrousel building last week in Riverfront Park. When completed, visitors will have a commanding view of the U.S. Pavilion and the Clock Tower through the south-facing windows. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE - Construction of the Looff Carrousel building last week in Riverfront Park. When completed, visitors will have a commanding view of the U.S. Pavilion and the Clock Tower through the south-facing windows. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

You probably saw that the city is considering selling naming rights to attractions at Riverfront Park.

And if you read the story in Tuesday’s newspaper, you know that those involved are all saying the right things about doing this in a dignified manner that respects the park’s traditions.

Which, I suspect, is what was said by those connected to college football’s Beef O’Brady’s Bowl and Weed-Eater Bowl before someone waved a hefty check under their noses.

But this is Spokane. There’s no reason to think this can’t be done right.

I mean, we’re not going to wind up with “The Looff Carrousel, Presented by Bob’s Marijuana & Bait Shop.”

Are we?

Of course, not.

Chances are, a thoughtful, deliberative process will give us something more like “The Clampett Family Foundation Skating Ribbon.”

Or “The Marmot Lodge Clock Tower.”

Or “The Avista Red Wagon.”

You know what they say. All’s fair in love and branding.

In any case, you cannot blame the city for wanting to generate a little extra revenue for parks programs. After all, Spokane voters, some of them at least, have a tradition of grumbling about every dime not earmarked for pothole repairs. So each little bit helps.

If money can be raised by enticing Rosauers to sponsor the gondola ride or by encouraging Nordstrom to pony up for the right to add its name to the park’s water fountain, it’s all good.

But why stop there?

I’m sure that, under the supervision of a conscientious wildlife biologist, a humane way could be found to place tasteful sponsored signage on Riverfront Park geese and squirrels.

Just imagine. “This Goose Brought to You by the WSU College of Nursing. Your Future Starts Here.”

Or “Ask This Squirrel About Great Deals on the Online S-R. Read Shawn Vestal and Get Mad.”

You know, something subtle and understated.

Of course, the real challenge will be getting Spokane news reporters to refer to park attractions by their new, sponsor-purchased names. Journalists sometimes balk at being accomplices to marketing strategies.

So some writers might resist using, say, “the Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories Skating Ribbon” in news stories.

And not all TV reporters will want to say, “This is Caitlin Kaitlynn, reporting to you live from the Gert’s All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet Looff Carrousel at Spokane’s Riverfront Park.”

But after awhile, it can all become a blur.

Once, years ago, a Spokane television reporter referred on the air to a building materials business as “Ziggy’s Yeah Ziggy’s,” unwittingly incorporating the advertising slogan into the name. So perhaps saying “the Dick’s Hamburgers Skating Ribbon” would not be such a stretch.

(Just leave off the “Buy ’em by the bagful.”)

One of the themes of the Riverfront Park redesign is that we’re entering a new era. So perhaps, in addition to soliciting venue sponsorships, city managers could place reality-check slogans in prominent places around the downtown Spokane landmark.

“Expo ’74 was a long time ago – Get over it!”

“You liked the Ice Palace? Tough cookies.”

“You miss the Imax? Well, you’re the only one, pal.”

You know, cheery, upbeat messages like that.

Of course, the real issue is money. Isn’t it always? And sponsorships are a way to make money.

Feel free to raise your voice and share your opinion about the sponsorships. I believe that’s called public input.

Just don’t hold your breath about anyone in a position of influence taking you seriously if your preferences represent a net loss, revenue-wise.

But really, what’s the harm in naming the ice skating ribbon after some rich family’s grandmother? Or after a mining company. Or after some far-away benefactor who never forgot about how Spokane was her launching pad.

Sometimes you get what you pay for. And when that means getting to see your name in a prominent public place, it’s no travesty. It’s no vulgarity or affront to public sensibilities.

It’s just a reminder of how America works in 2018.