Some Corporate Sponsorship of Public Amenities Just Makes Sense

The Nashville city council is betting residents will happily use free dog-poop bags printed with a company logo. They're right.

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AP

When the U.S. National Park Service announced back in 2005 that it was considering accepting corporate sponsorships for park projects and facilities, critics of the plan worried that it could lead to businesses slapping logos all over America's beloved national park space.

The feared plastering with ads of our nation's federal parks hasn't happened. But at the local level, similar efforts by cash-strapped governments have led to mixed results. In the tackier camp, you have Florida's "John Anthony Wilson Bicycle Safety Act," which allows for "commercial sponsorship displays" as large as 16 square feet at trailheads and in public park parking lots. Also arguably tacky: Public school districts in several states, including Texas and Colorado, can (and do) sell naming and advertising rights for school buses. Are these things ugly? Sure. Are they also beneficial to the upkeep of public institutions? That too!

But not every law or ordinance allowing for corporate sponsorship of public lands leads to eyesores or giant advertising displays. Take, for instance, the corporate sponsorship law that the Nashville city council approved last night. The ordinance, which you can read here, authorizes the Nashville parks board to do the following:

adopt rules and regulations to provide for sponsorships of park programs, events, projects, facilities, and sites. The regulations are to include provisions regarding the types of events and facilities that can be sponsored, the size and number of signs, the use of logos, and the types of businesses and products that are not eligible for sponsorship. All sponsorship agreements in excess of $25,000 would require council approval by resolution.

And here's what the director of Nashville's parks department actually envisions doing with that new power, as reported by The Tennessean:

“We’re trying to be good stewards,” said Tommy Lynch, director of Metro parks. “We’re trying to do stuff right now that in 30 years will make sense. And that’s not easy.”

What doesn’t makes sense, Lynch said, is that when the local hardware store sponsors a Little League team, the rules in place now prevent them from hanging a sign on the park fence. Most of Nashville’s surrounding counties and cities, including Rutherford and Mt. Juliet, allow some sort of limited sponsorship and advertising in parks. Franklin has a dog park sponsored by Mars Pet Care.

When a local grass company proposed redoing the greens at a public golf course, it wanted to use its signs and logos on the course. Metro had to say no.

And a pet food company proposed donating bags in which people would put their dog’s waste when they use public dog parks. In exchange the company wanted to put its logo on the bags. Metro again had to say no, even though it would have saved taxpayers $30,000.  

I can certainly think of tackier things than corporately sponsored dog-poo bags or a hardware store's sign on a little league fence. When it comes to public interest, free plastic bags that would save the city of Nashville $30,000 surely outweigh the value of an ad-free dog-walking experience. 

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