August 23rd, 2008

Naming Bridge at LR Said to be Worth $750,000

By Evin Demirel
Arkansas Democrat Gazette

The right to add a corporate name to the new Junction Bridge pedestrian walkway between downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock is up for sale. Price tag: $ 750, 000.

The fee will allow a sponsor to display its name on either end of the bridge or possibly on the side of one of the two towers supporting the bridge, said Billie Ann Myers, chairman of the Pulaski County Bridge Facilities Board.

The size and location of the signs would be negotiable, Myers said.

“We wouldn’t want a great big sign that would detract from the bridge aesthetically,” she said. If a corporation purchased full naming rights, it would receive “exclusive rights to any advertising on the bridge.” In discussions this week, Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines said the advertising “shouldn’t take away from the bridge’s historic character too much.” The mayors of the two cities on opposite sides of the Arkansas River are keeping an open mind about granting naming rights for the bridge.

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said he hoped that “whatever signage there is, is complementary” and doesn’t detract from a future exhibit at the bridge’s entrance showcasing the rock for which Little Rock was named. Stodola said that his City Council would look into whether putting lighted signs on the bridge would be permissible under sign ordinances. North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Hays also said aldermen would review any proposals for corporate signs on the bridge’s North Little Rock side under municipal ordinances dictating sign size, “candle-power” and scrolling.

“We would have to review existing ordinances and see if some exception is warranted,” Hays said, adding he would consider the appropriateness of Junction Bridge signs on a caseby-case basis.

He assumes any such corporate advertising would be “reasonable” and wouldn’t evoke “an outdoor theater screen.” The Junction Bridge opened as a pedestrian walkway in May. The county spent $ 5. 8 million converting the former railroad bridge into a walkway that incorporates stairs and two elevators on each end of the lift span over the Arkansas River.

Money from the sale of the naming rights would be used to pay for bridge maintenance and other improvements. Currently, Pulaski County, North Little Rock and Little Rock contribute to a $ 75, 000 bridge maintenance fund, Myers said.

Myers said celebrating the Junction Bridge’s rich history is one reason additional funds have been sought. Such funds could finance historical markers, art exhibits and a sound system to pipe in music from the Riverfest Amphitheatre in addition to unforeseen maintenance needs.

Myers said nonprofit organizations could sponsor individual “educational storyboards” such as historical markers. Also, she said that the board has sold five donor plaques on the benches placed on the bridge at a cost of $ 2, 500 each.

Seeking corporate sponsorship for a public facility isn’t a novel idea.

Hays noted that in 1997, Alltel Corp. bought the naming rights for the county-owned arena built on the North Little Rock side of the river not far from the Junction Bridge — now called Alltel Arena — for $ 7 million.

Selling naming rights to raise money for bridges and similar pedestrian walkways has been considered around the country.

In October 2007, Golden Gate Bridge directors rejected corporate sponsorship proposals that would have raised $ 3 million for the San Francisco icon. Critics decried the plan as “crass commercialism.” In 2004, British Petroleum America Inc. donated $ 5 million for naming rights of what is now the BP Pedestrian Bridge in Chicago.

Millennium Park communications director Jill Hurwitz said BP’s signs are “very delicate,” not explicitly carved into the structure’s granite. She added that nobody complained about BP’s sponsorship, partly because the bridge was new — not a renamed historical structure.

The idea of selling naming rights intrigued at least one official.

Pirouz Moin, bridge engineer of the Street and Bridge Division of Public Works in Austin, Texas, hadn’t heard of public bridges selling naming rights but will discuss it at his next board meeting.

He guessed that Austin’s younger population would have fewer complaints if an existing bridge’s name were bought by a corporation than older residents who are more emotionally attached to traditional names.

The downtown area has a number of pedestrian bridges including a bridge over Town Lake that opened in 2001 and is popular with bikers and walkers.

Pulaski County’s Myers is expecting some opposition to selling naming rights to the Junction Bridge.

Noting that some residents opposed Alltel’s sponsorship of the Alltel Arena, she expects some will be unhappy if corporate signs are placed on the bridge. But she said the facilities board has to figure out a way to pay for operating the bridge.

“On the other hand, nobody wants to raise their taxes, either.”

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