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The Great Outdoors, Sponsored by . . .

By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Would Burke Lake lose some of its value if it were named after a hotel chain or a defense contractor? How about if the Super Slide at Audrey Moore RECenter at Wakefield Park suddenly had the corporate logo of a technology or telecommunications firm plastered on it? What if the Water Mine Family Swimmin' Hole in Reston were named after a bank, a grocery store or a clothing outlet?

Cash-strapped Fairfax County is looking at whether selling the naming rights of its 24,000 acres of public parks and facilities could pull in enough revenue to offset some of the millions of dollars in budget shortfalls that have hamstrung many county programs and operations. For the next fiscal year, Fairfax is projecting a $315 million gap.

The idea of auctioning the names of public facilities to Corporate America has been toyed with before: An ambitious plan in 2000 supported by a coalition of business groups called for re-naming Northern Virginia's roads and Metro stations. That proposal failed after several businesses questioned whether anyone would want to buy the name of traffic-clogged stretches of the Capital Beltway or the Dulles Toll Road. Last year, a county-supported proposal to get ad dollars for 110 bus shelters got off the ground, but few companies have shown interest.

Now, the county is looking at whether it can finagle a few dollars for its parks, pointing to deals struck in California, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington state. In Cranberry, Pa., a sports park was named after Dick's Sporting Goods. Kiosks at a county-owned trail in King County, Wash., now bear the Starbucks name. One of the most talked-about deals was negotiated between the city of Medford, Ore., and U.S. Cellular for a new sports park. The price tag: $650,000 for six years.

Officials also looked at Discovery Communications' $1 million contribution in 2000 to the indoor Discovery Sports Center, at the South Germantown Recreational Park in Montgomery County.

"It's an out-of-the-box idea that is interesting in times of tough budgets," said Supervisor Pat S. Herrity (R-Springfield), who helped craft the road and Metro station plan in 2000. "Heck, it's an interesting idea in good budget times, too."

Among the facilities listed on the Fairfax County Park Authority's request for proposals, which has a mid-October deadline: county-owned lakes, nature and recreation centers, golf courses, reservable picnic sites, the summer entertainment series and the future Laurel Hill SportsPlex near Occoquan.

The Fairfax County school system is also looking at whether advertising agreements could become a new revenue source. The School Board decided a year ago to change its policy and allow private corporate entities to snag naming deals if they offered a "significant contribution" to the district, said schools spokesman Paul Regnier.

Now, it appears, anything, including the Great Outdoors, is fair game.

"My feeling is that people will be open to considering a lot of things," said Rob Jackson, president of the McLean Citizens' Association, which in the past opposed advertisements on city-owned bus shelters.

So could Fairfax get a new mini-FedEx Field or Verizon Center?

Said Stuart Mendelsohn, president of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, "As long as it's not raising taxes, I think it's worth looking at."

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