There's more than one way to bring home the bacon.
Having just mended a $16.8 million shortfall, and with further cuts likely coming in early summer, City Council has been checking for untapped sources of revenue. That's how the city again stumbled upon an idea that has bounced around for several years, but never gotten much traction.
Imagine the possibilities: Youth soccer leagues brought to you by Adidas. Wag n' Wash dog parks. A new city fleet of Ford Fusions.
The city believes local, regional and national companies will spend millions to advertise their wares on city property or with city programs, as soon as early 2010.
"We can use the money more than ever right now," Councilor Jan Martin says.
The Active Network, a company out of Huntington Beach, Calif., is examining the city's assets to determine what types of deals are possible. Its work will cost the city $50,000 and take several months. Afterward, the city will likely agree to pay the company (which beat out two others for the contract) an additional 15 percent commission for "Phase 2," the part that involves actually roping in companies.
"The government has to get creative," Active Network's Don Schulte says. "It's not rocket science, but it's interesting most city councils don't hire a marketing person."
Schulte says sometimes, opportunities are obvious. If the city is already buying computers from Dell, for instance, why not ask Dell to throw a bone and fund a community project? Others are less apparent, like asking BMW to use its purple Xenon headlights to illuminate a historic bridge.
Of course, you know what they say: Timing is everything. And while the city's timing might be excellent, the timing for the business world is, well, less so. Back in 2008, the city was hoping to bring in as much as $2 million from sponsorship contracts in the first 18 months after starting a program. Now, with many ad budgets slashed, no one's even guessing. Which begs the question: If councilors thought of this several years ago, why didn't they do it then, when the economy was friendlier?
Well, says city spokeswoman Sue Skiffington-Blumberg, Council just wasn't comfortable with the idea until late 2008. Part of it, she explains, was fear that the city would end up looking like Las Vegas or "the outfield of a baseball field." (Skiffington-Blumberg, by the way, is adamant that all changes will be "tasteful.")
More recently, Councilor Darryl Glenn expressed concern about taking $50,000 out of the city's Parking Enterprise to fund "Phase 1" of the agreement. Since the parking enterprise is funded largely by downtown meter money, he says, its funds ought to be spent on downtown projects.
"That's a stretch, to say [the contract] is somehow connected to downtown," Glenn says. "I would have rather had the contractor front the cost."
Still others are concerned that money earned from sponsorships will go to the city's general fund, instead of benefiting the department whose resources bring in the money. For example, the parks and recreation department would see no direct benefit if sports programs landed a million-dollar sponsorship deal.
Skiffington-Blumberg says it's time to put aside such concerns to focus on reaping a positive outcome.
"This effort is being done for the good of the whole," she says. "If the whole is healthy, you're going to have more opportunities."