This park brought to you by ... Corporate sponsors: Howard County plan to find money for recreational facilities is ill-advised.

May 12, 1998

SOMEWHERE YOU have to draw the line. It is understandable that the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks would want more money to improve its facilities. But the notion that a viable means to that end is to put corporate logos on the entrance signs to county parks and pools is misguided. The conflict between public policy and corporate goals to make money would be too great.

Indeed, a similar concern kept Congress from approving a proposal two years ago to allow corporate sponsorship of national parks. Park rangers said they were fearful of ending up with the Yellowstone Park grizzlies brought to you by Bud Light.

Supporters of the federal proposal, like those now backing a similar plan in Howard, think they can prevent parks from being cheapened by commercialization.

That assumption is naive.

Gary J. Arthur, Howard County parks director, says if everything is done "on the up and up," it's a "win-win situation." Experts who track sales of concession rights say a public park of several hundred acres could earn as much as $200,000 a year through corporate sponsorship. Smaller parks may receive up to $75,000 annually.

These amounts aren't insignificant when you're trying to cobble together a budget. But are they worth the risk of having a private business decide its sponsorship gives it the right to dictate the uses of public space? Avoid that possibility. Go to the public if improved funding of recreation is needed.

Last year, New York officials asked sports and entertainment marketing giant International Marketing Group to come up with ideas to generate corporate sponsorships of routine municipal activities that included parks programs and even ferry rides.

Such ideas are a sign of lily-livered politicians who are afraid to suggest it's the public's duty to improve the funding of the services it wants. Nothing in life is free, not even parks. We doubt taxpayers would want to cede control, or even the names, of their parks for a fistful of corporate dollars.

Pub Date: 5/12/98

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