The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Metro station naming rights item pulled from board agenda to address concerns of Fairfax County leaders

A ‘Fortune Global 500’ company has expressed interest in buying the naming rights to Innovation Center Metro station

Work is ongoing at the Dulles Airport Metro Center station as construction of Phase 2 of the Silver Line continues. Metro is considering selling naming rights to the Innovation Metro station, but some Fairfax County officials oppose the idea. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

A proposal to consider selling the naming rights to one of the new Silver Line Metro stations was pulled from the agenda of Thursday’s Metro board meeting after Fairfax County officials expressed concerns about the idea and complained that they weren’t consulted about the plan.

The Metro board was set to consider entering negotiations to sell the naming rights to the Innovation Center Metro station to a “Fortune Global 500 Company” that has expressed interest in the station — one of six scheduled to open as part of phase 2 of the Silver Line extension linking Metro to Dulles International Airport and eastern Loudoun County. But the discussion and vote was postponed Wednesday to give Metro more time to address concerns raised by the elected leaders of Fairfax, who have spent years working on plans to turn the surrounding area into a high-tech corridor.

In a letter sent this week to Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld, Fairfax County Board Chair Sharon Bulova (D) argued that renaming Innovation Station could hurt county and state efforts to lure businesses to the nearby Center for Innovation Technology.

“The current name is well-liked by landowners, developers, and numerous businesses that have chosen to locate within the Innovation Station area,” Bulova said in the letter that was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday evening.

Supervisor John W. Foust (D-Dranesville), whose district includes the station, called selling the naming rights “a bad idea.”

“I don’t think they paid anything for the Silver Line,” Foust said, referring to Metro. “We paid for that. The landowners out there, who will be impacted by this decision, paid for it with their tax district.”

Metro has considered selling naming rights for years as a strategy to raise operating revenue, but board members have not acted on the idea, saying the transit agency needed to first create a policy that would give them adequate control over sales without violating First Amendment rights. Metro staff have been working on drafts of policies that would permit corporate sponsorship, but in the meantime, the unnamed multinational company expressed interest in acquiring rights to the Innovation Center station, on Sunrise Valley Drive in Herndon.

The station is near burgeoning tech centers in various stages of development that include Innovation South, which will ultimately consist of 1.5 million square feet of residential, office, hotel and retail space, and Waterside, a 5-million-square-foot development about a mile away.

Metro said the company that wants the naming rights to the Metro station is in negotiations to lease space next to the station for its headquarters, and it has presented Metro with a “unique and time-sensitive opportunity,” according to a memo to the board.

“Taking advantage of this opportunity would allow [Metro] to assess the market potential of corporate sponsorship of Metro’s stations and assets to increase non-farebox revenue to help keep Metrorail and Metrobus fares affordable,” the memo said.

Board members were to consider the proposal at their regularly scheduled meeting Thursday before the agenda item was pulled Wednesday morning.

Metro is considering selling naming rights to stations to boost operating revenue

There are some county supervisors who support the idea of generating extra revenue by selling name rights.

“It’s something we need to consider,” particularly amid [Metro’s] efforts to keep costs down, Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) said.

Supervisor John C. Cook (R-Braddock) agreed, but he added that changing the names of stations should be rare.

“If it becomes like football stadiums,” where a new name appears every few years, Cook said, “that would be a bad idea.”

Why Metro's second Silver Line phase has been more problem-plagued than the first

Metro would not disclose the potential name buyer but did say the company is one that seeks a long-term lease on the adjacent land for a North American headquarters, which will become “a gateway for its international visitors and local employees visiting its North America headquarters, with many of these visitors and employees using Dulles International Airport and the Dulles Airport Metro Station.”

Metro officials did not set a date for the board to revisit the potential sale, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said. The next board meeting is Dec. 12.