City of Miami putting 'for sale' sign on names of city parks
By Risa Polansky
Grass isn't the only thing green about Miami parks — recreation areas could bring big bucks to the city after commissioners last week voted to allow private sponsorship of park buildings and programs.
"The whole intent of the ordinance is to give us an opportunity to raise money to support our children in the parks," Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones said.
And in a time of tight budgets that will probably only grow tighter, Chairman Joe Sanchez agreed it's time to "think outside the box."
Should a private entity pay for the naming rights to a park building or program in the city, proceeds would pad the park budget.
Fearing a "Florida Lottery scenario," Commissioner Tomás Regalado insisted the money supplement, not just substitute for, park funding.
The ordinance stipulates a park's budget would not be slashed because of additional revenues generated by a naming rights sale.
However, the city may need to reduce funding to parks due to "budgetary issues that are beyond our control," City Manager Pete Hernandez said.
With property tax revenue reductions and continued residential slowdown looming, the city may come up short $22.2 million in revenue next fiscal year, rising to a potential $30.8 million shortfall by fiscal 2013, a five-year forecast shows.
Should officials reduce the park budget to compensate, sponsorship revenues could soften the blow.
Commissioners have recently taken measures to increase revenues through other "outside the box" means, such as slot machines at gaming facilities and permitting fees for outdoor advertising murals.
All five commissioners supported the new parks initiative.
"I understand marketing," said Mr. Regalado, a career-long journalist. "I'm telling you, what we're doing here is very easy money."
Easy enough that the door should be open to all city parks, he said, not just those designated "regional" as the ordinance stipulates.
Maria J. Chiaro, interim city attorney at the time of the discussion, said the legislation is to come back for a final vote without the limitation.
Commissioners did, however, have concerns about the new program.
Mr. Sanchez warned about "an issue of exclusivity" — if Ford wants to sponsor one park, he said, Dodge probably couldn't sponsor another.
Gene Tinnie, chair of the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust, said that large, commercial promotions are "not really in the spirit of what the whole park is about."
Commissioner Marc Sarnoff assured him there are compatible ways to honor sponsors, such as plaques. "It's a matter of taste."
Agreed Mr. Sanchez, "we'll be very sensitive to the community."
Parks Director Ernest Burkeen has been tapped to reach out to the private sector through an open process.
"Whatever you do, on the first negotiated name, don't sell yourself short," Mr. Sanchez advised him, hoping to set the bar high for other deals.
A naming rights process and review committee are to be established, and the commission is to have the ultimate say on the sponsorship names.
Ms. Spence-Jones requested also that the community have the opportunity to weigh in.
Mr. Burkeen speculated footwear and sportswear companies might have interest in sponsoring programs at parks.