NEW YORK - Is Central Park in danger of being renamed after Pepsi-Cola or Microsoft? New York officials insist it won't happen, but admit they are open to corporate sponsorship of green spaces if it will help solve the city's budget crunch.
Faced with a US$4-billion budget deficit, Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor, plans to offer big business naming rights to public sites. Adrian Benepe, the Parks Commissioner, said he has not ruled out offering companies the opportunity to put their name on an entire park.
"If a corporation gave us a lot of money and promised an endowment or maintenance money over the long term, that would be something we would consider," said Jane Rudolph, Mr. Benepe's chief press secretary.
"But we are not looking to rename any existing sites, so people should not be worried that Sheep Meadow inside Central Park will become Pepsi-Cola Stadium, or the like.
"Anything that was renamed would be worked out with grace. It would be a delicate matter. We are not looking to plaster corporate names all over our parks, nor corporate logos."
Elsewhere in the city, corporate sponsorship is on the rise. Even Broadway's bright lights now beam names such as Ford Center for the Performing Arts and the recently renamed American Airlines Theater, which also contains the Nabisco Lounge.
"It's an idea that perhaps came from Canada," said Steve Greer, research manager of the League of American Theaters and Producers. "It may well become a trend for non-profit theatres" as a source of income.
In Toronto, corporate names attached to theatres and concert halls include the Hummingbird Centre, changed from the O'Keefe Centre in 1996, and the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts.
The new thinking at New York's City Hall has been sparked by Mr. Bloomberg, the billionaire media mogul who took over from Rudy Giuliani this year.
"The Mayor told commissioners [of city departments] to think outside the box," Ms. Rudolph said.
"He wanted everyone to bring new ideas to the city. There has been a history of philanthropy in the United States. Today, the corporation has replaced individual donors as the philanthropist."
In New York, Carnegie Hall bears the name of Andrew Carnegie, the steel industrialist who established the concert hall in 1891. Rockefeller Center is named for John D. Rockefeller, the oil magnate who began its construction in the 1930s.
Recently, energy company Keyspan developed a little league baseball stadium in Coney Island in exchange for calling it Keyspan Park. Richmond County Bank has put its name on a new ballfield in Staten Island after providing cash for its construction.
But a corporate sponsorship strategy has yet to be developed. "Nothing has been addressed just yet," Ms. Rudolph said.
Limited renaming appears to raise little opposition among New Yorkers, but a wholesale sweep of the city's most famous names is a different matter.
"There are certain things that are quintessential New York names that should never be changed -- like Central Park," said Sue Grossman, a Wall Street trader who lives near the 340-hectare park and uses it for her weekly powerwalk.
"But if there is an area that is made more beautiful because of corporate money, I would not object to that. Perhaps these things should be put to community board votes."
Added Ed Vaughan, a building maintenance worker who frequently visits the park with his six-year-old daughter: "Maybe if they put a lot of money into a section -- like a zoo. But it would be ludicrous to name a whole park after a company. Parks are for public people, not for corporate America."
There is another downside to such renaming: If the company goes bankrupt or otherwise falls on hard times, will the city be stuck with the name?
In Houston, for example, calls are mounting to remove the name Enron from the baseball stadium and other buildings around the city.
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