City finds sponsorships are tougher sell with assets dwindling 

While some locals cried "sellout," City Council was widely supportive a year ago when city staff hired a marketing company.

The hope was that the California-based Active Network would generate millions by persuading corporations large and small to plaster their names on our city trash cans, or sponsor popular recreation services. Everything was up for grabs.

"We can use the money more than ever right now," Councilor Jan Martin said at the time.

One year later, the money has yet to appear. As it turns out, the city, in its attempt to flee the recession's grip, unwittingly ran straight into the arms of a Catch-22.

The city needs the money because it's broke. But it's having a hard time getting the money ... because it's broke.

Colorado Springs initially paid the Active Network $50,000 (from the Parking Enterprise) to research local assets and do initial work. It was originally presumed the company would start reeling in the money in early 2010.

Late last year, Active Network was trying to assemble "packages" that would be put up for bid. There might have been, say, a "parks package" that included naming rights, advertisements on park properties, and sponsorship of recreation activities.

But during the same time period, City Council was trying to mend a massive budget shortfall — and the possibilities for cuts were endless. This, of course, made Active Network's process nearly impossible.

"The Springs is wonderful because it has so many assets, and assets that are unique and different," Active Network Business Development Director Don Schulte says, "but at the same time, I don't know what's available."

City spokesperson Sue Skiffington-Blumberg, who is in charge of the Active Network contract, shares Schulte's frustration: "You don't go to a national sponsor with something, and then come back after the fact and say, 'Oh, by the way, that facility no longer exists.'"

To make matters worse, in November voters passed Issue 300, which muddied whether the city could work with its enterprises on contracts. Before 300, Active Network planned to create huge bundles of assets — including enterprise properties — to put on the block. Big packages demand big bucks. But with 300's legal implications unclear, Active Network has been forced to think smaller.

Currently, a single package is up for bid: It includes vending machines in major city buildings such as fire and police stations and City Hall. The city has sent out the bid to 18 Front Range vending and beverage companies. Bids are due back in April.

In the meantime, Schulte is meeting with Skiffington-Blumberg to regroup and decide what packages to pursue next. While the outlook might not be as starry as a year ago, many still hope corporate sponsorship can help bail the city out. Darryl Glenn says he, along with the rest of Council, is looking forward to hearing more.

"We need to have that discussion," Glenn says. "But it hasn't come up to us yet. Between medical marijuana and the homeless issues, we've been waiting to bring that up on the agenda."



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