Some high-profile Edmonton recreation centres could eventually have corporate-sponsored names as councillors prepare to debate the merits of selling naming rights to offset city costs.
City administration is asking for a ten-year exemption to a longstanding policy in order to pursue naming-rights sponsorships for three existing recreation centres, Terwillegar, The Meadows and Clareview.
The 2007 policy advises city council to avoid selling naming rights for existing facilities, preferring that sponsors be limited to new or future buildings.
Administration is also looking for approval to enter into renaming agreements for the future Lewis Farms Recreation Centre and city-owned Re/Max Field.
The exemption could generate up to $5 million over the next decade, or $500,000 a year, according to a report headed before the community and public services committee on Wednesday.
“I think under ideal circumstances we wouldn’t be going down this path, but I think it’s a creative solution to try to offset some of the expenses incurred by some of these rec centres,” said Coun. Jon Dziadyk, who serves as the committee’s vice-chair.
Pandemic prompts creative cost-saving, councillor says
The request comes as the city looks to avoid a tax increase while grappling with a projected $23.8 million shortfall in this year’s operating budget due to sweeping changes brought on by COVID-19. That includes an additional $5 million deficit for recreation centres compared to the pre-pandemic budget, in large part due to closures and phased re-openings.
“Right now, we have almost zero tolerance for any kind of tax increase. We have to be creative with the ways that we can generate new revenue,” Dziadyk said.
While selling naming rights for recreation centres is new to Edmonton, cash-strapped cities across the country have increasingly looked to sponsorship deals over the past decade to drum up extra dollars.
Winnipeg is perhaps the most evident Canadian example, with the city offering naming rights to everything from dog parks to libraries — and, yes, recreation centres — as part of its Sponsor Winnipeg program. Just northwest of Edmonton, what was once the St. Albert Multipurpose Leisure Centre is now Servus Credit Union Place. Calgary City Council has also endorsed a policy of selling naming rights to generate extra revenue.
Right now, we have almost zero tolerance for any kind of tax increase.– Jon Dziadyk, councillor for Ward 3
Edmonton’s city administration says the requested exemption would give it the go-ahead to enter into temporary agreements, up to ten years, for naming rights to select recreation centres. Other aspects of the city’s current naming policy would remain, including that a sponsor must be “reflective of the city’s values and mandate,” the report says. The city will also try to incorporate a reference to location in digital and print materials even if the rights are sold, such as by tacking on “in Terwillegar” to the end of the name.
‘Paying for visibility’
Administration says it selected Terwillegar, The Meadows and Clareview — three of the largest recreation centres in the city — because their naming rights were likely to garner the most money and had drawn interest from sponsors.
“You’re paying for that visibility for people to see your name so I think that’s what is driving this,” said Coun. Andrew Knack, who also sits on the committee.
Terwillegar has already garnered sponsorships from Tirecraft, a tire and mechanical company and a real estate company called Maxwell Realty for two of its arenas, but many prospective sponsors have indicated a strong preference for brandishing an entire complex with their namesake, according to the report.
“There’s very few other options that would allow us to bring in additional revenue beyond just driving up traffic and you can only do that so much based on population, based on a variety of factors, and with health restrictions and health protocols in place,” Knack said.
Knack says he understands potential concerns around opening up naming rights, and the potential it could eventually lead council to solicit bids for rights to other city-run facilities such as libraries. There is a civic pride in some city buildings that might be tarnished by a corporate-sponsored name, Knack says, even if it’s not of particular concern to him.
“Administration is not asking us to change this to permanently do this, they’re saying, let’s create an exemption, let’s look at this,” he said.
The city surveyed roughly 3,800 people in July on the issue, with 62 per cent saying they were somewhat or very comfortable with naming of recreation facilities, according to the report.
The report will go before the community and public services committee for debate on Wednesday. An exemption to the naming policy would then have to go before a city council for final vote.
Each sponsorship agreement thereafter would also be delivered to council for approval.
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