With aging facilities and tight budgets, the City of Palo Alto faces a quandary: Should it grant naming rights to buildings, rooms or other city-owned properties to recognize major donors?
Offering naming rights could bring in millions of dollars to help repair and rebuild facilities, according to a consultant familiar with standard fundraising techniques.
And if the city does allow naming, who should decide how much the naming rights are worth, which names are acceptable and whether renaming facilities with existing names is permissible?
Despite disparate views, the City Council's Policy and Services Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to ask for the full council to discuss the city's overall "facility naming policy" before the committee tackles complicated details of how to implement such a policy.
Anticipated projects that could offer naming opportunities include the Palo Alto Art Center, libraries and the Junior Museum and Zoo.
City staff members have recommended the council consider offering naming rights to a non-profit fundraising group involved in a specific project. The group could then present options to potential donors, according to temporary Management Analyst Linda Klemczak.
She presented the committee with a detailed set of related issues, such as the use of commercial names, minimum donation levels and potential re-naming opportunities.
But Councilwoman LaDoris Cordell said the full council should first decide if it's even interested in considering exchanging names for money.
"The way I look at it is, can we be bought?" Cordell asked. "Perhaps you can tell in the tenor of my comments I'm not particularly interested in our buildings being bought."
Councilman Peter Drekmeier said he has mixed feelings on the issue.
"I could be convinced either way," he said.
But other council and community members will have passionate opinions they want to express, he said, urging the committee to send the proposal on to the council.
Councilman John Barton said he is also torn about selling naming rights, but he thinks it's a necessity given the limits on the city's finances.
"Am I interested in a police building by Bob's Bail Bonds?" Barton asked. "Not particularly."
Instead, the city may have to compromise with, "This holding cell brought to you by Bob's Bail Bonds," Barton said, eliciting chuckles.