Monroe County is selling naming rights to lodges in its park system.
"Throughout the United States, budgets are being reduced," says parks director Frank Allkofer, calling the move a "revenue enhancement."
The county is starting with the more popular lodges in its 20-park system --- lodges in Greece Canal Park, Black Creek Park, and Webster Park --- seeking requests for proposals from interested sponsors, Allkofer says.
Sponsors will own the rights for varying, finite lengths of time, Allkofer says. Individual terms will be negotiated with the parks department. "We'd like to get them long-term, if we can."
For their money, sponsors will get a plaque in the lodge and their name on the Monroe County Parks Department web site. They would not be responsible for any of the lodge's upkeep or maintenance.
Allkofer would not say how much he wants for the naming rights --- afraid that publishing a dollar amount would influence how much sponsors are willing to pay.
"We're not going to give these things away," he says.
Although this is a new idea for Monroe County, the concept is being discussed on a national level as municipalities struggle with budget deficits and funding cuts.
"There is always a shortage of funding for upkeep," says Cynthia Howk, architectural research coordinator with The Landmark Society. "This has certainly been one of the strategies. It may provide a very reasonable funding stream."
Not knowing the details of Monroe County's plan, Howk says she would neither endorse nor criticize it. But, Howk says, there is a difference between a donation --- which usually has an educational purpose --- and a corporate sponsorship.
The main issue, Howk says, is "what is attached to it other than simply the name?" using Coca-Cola as a fictional example. By buying naming rights, she posed, would the soft-drink company also insist the park sell nothing but Coca-Cola products?
Many county legislators contacted for this story were unaware of the details of the plan. The parks department doesn't need the Legislature's approval on contracts under $5,000. Most legislators say they've heard the idea tossed around, but weren't aware it was actually in the works. In fact, Allkofer hopes to have the first sponsorship secured by year's end.
"I think it's ridiculous," says Democrat Fred Amato, a member of the Legislature's Recreation and Education Committee. "They're in a financial crisis and need to raise funds. There's a big mess out there and they're trying to get funds any way they can."
Amato accused the county administration of giving away the store in an attempt to dig itself out of a financial hole, citing the upcoming sale of 28-acres of the IOLA campus at public auction as another example.
"If there's a possibility of selling it, they're going to go ahead and do it," he says.
Legislator Lynda Garner Goldstein, another Democrat on the committee, joked that she is "waiting for a proposal to sell the county office building."
She doesn't know the details of the plan, Goldstein says, but does not like the idea of "commercializing parks."
Republican Legislator Tracy Logel, vice chair of the committee, supports selling naming rights, she says, if it's done in a tasteful way.
The current names of the lodges are generic for the most part and do not have any special historic significance as far as she knows, says county historian Carolyn Vacca. Vacca doesn't see how selling naming rights could negatively impact the county's parks.
"It's not a case where somebody's putting up billboards, Vacca says. "As long as it's consistent with the architecture of the lodges there and the surroundings, it shouldn't detract from the natural beauty of the park."
In fact, if the revenue generated from the sales helps maintain that natural beauty, Vacca says, then "in the long run, it's probably doing more good than harm."