Bridge name could be golden

Group by the Bay considers selling commercial rights

August 26, 2007|By New York Times News Service.

SAN FRANCISCO -- There are no naming rights on the table, and there will not be any logo-bearing neon signs, tower-to-tower banners or screaming billboards, either. That might ruin the view.

But on Friday, a committee of the board that runs the financially strapped Golden Gate Bridge did pass along a plan for a so-called corporate partnership for the structure, sending a proposal to a vote before the full board next month.

Even as it did so, activists here were preparing for the possibility that the Golden Gate - the engineering wonder, international tourist attraction and perpetual suicide magnet - might soon be brought to you by Coca-Cola, for example.

"We understand that it's not going to be Google Gate Bridge," said Marcie Keever, the program director for San Francisco Beautiful, a nonprofit group devoted to protecting "the unique beauty and livability" of San Francisco.

"And while they are saying it's going to be this understated thing, we're still worried it's just a further distraction and blight on our public spaces."

Indeed, at the plan's formal unveiling on Friday, the emphasis was on the many ways the Golden Gate might take on advertisements without really taking on advertisements.

Kevin Bartram, a sponsorship consultant hired by the bridge's overseers, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, said any sponsorship would be tastefully done.

"It will be appropriate and understated," he said. "But visible."

Among the ideas are a new visitor's center on the bridge's southern end - in San Francisco - which might be festooned with small corporate signs and sponsored historical placards, Bartram said.

Other possibilities could include sponsorship of food kiosks, viewing platforms, directional signs, spots with good photo angles and even restrooms.

One plan would be to solicit partners for a $30 million restoration of the bridge's main cable, as well as the repainting of the south tower. (The color would remain orange - kind of like that used by Home Depot.)

In addition, the district's other transit operations might get advertisements on the sides of buses and commercials running on video screens in ferry terminals.

What will be verboten are any commercial signs on the bridge or its tollbooths.

The plan would be marketed to potential sponsors as the Partnership to Preserve the Golden Gate Bridge, something that administrators say has become difficult in recent years as costs have risen.

The bridge district, with a 2007 operating budget of $150 million, has a projected deficit of $80 million in the next five years.

A 2002 toll increase - it now costs $5 to enter San Francisco - was passed by the board, and bus and ferry fares have also been steadily increasing.

If approved, Bertram said, corporate sponsorships could bring in as much as $4 million annually by its third year.

The bridge's appeal is undeniable: About 10 million people a year come to see the Golden Gate, which was built in 1937 and is widely considered one of the world's finest examples of suspension architecture.

As such, changing any element of the look of the Golden Gate is always a charged issue, something supporters of a suicide barrier have long struggled against. The bridge has no such barrier, though one is being considered.

Jake McGoldrick, a board member who opposes the plan, said the idea of corporate sponsorship was equivalent to slapping an advertisement on the side of the White House.

"I don't think you take your iconic properties and turn them into advertising opportunities," McGoldrick said. "There are places in the world that should be kept clean."

But many members of the board committee seemed to support the plan. The full board - 19 members from six Bay Area counties - will take up the issue on Sept. 28.

Denis Mulligan, a district engineer, said he viewed the sponsorship plan as a chance to upgrade the experience for visitors to the bridge, experience now limited to a gift shop, a garden and a viewing platform.

"Right now, we don't really get the story of the bridge," Mulligan said.

"This is an opportunity to get other people to help us tell that story."

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