by Steven Hale
Some form of sponsorships will be allowed in city parks after the Metro Council approved a bill last night that amends the longstanding prohibition on them.
The specific rules and regulations, including "the types of events and facilities that can be sponsored, the size and number of signs, the use of logos and the types of businesses and products that are not eligible for sponsorship" according to analysis of the bill from council attorney Jon Cooper, will be established by the Board of Parks and Recreation. Councilmen Charlie Tygard and Scott Davis, who sponsored the legislation, have offered examples of the type of sponsorships they envision: a vendor of dog-waste bags contributing to the cost of the bags at dog parks in exchange for putting their logo on the bag dispensers, or a local company paying for new playground equipment and putting their sign on the park's fence.
Some council members has raised questions about how the Parks Department could be sure that revenue from sponsorships ended up back in the Parks budget the following year. As it stands, the revenue would have to go into the General Fund, with no legal requirement for it to be allocated to Parks in the next fiscal year. However, the bill's sponsors and Parks Director Tommy Lynch have said they have no doubt that the funds would remain with Parks. The loudest opponent of the bill was Councilman Bo Mitchell, who had raised the aforementioned concern and also said the change would lead to improvements in the city's best parks while struggling parks and underserved areas would fall further behind.
At Tuesday's council meeting, Mitchell tried to offer an amendment to the bill, but several members objected to a suspension of the rules, which would have allowed the council to consider it. When Mitchell explained that the amendment would have ensured that revenues from sponsorships went back into Parks so the department could "spend money on underutilized, underserved areas that don't have any parks" or "the maintenance of existing parks" some council members, including Councilman Jerry Maynard, expressed a desire to go back and consider the amendment, but by then it was too late.
Mitchell went on to decry the proliferation of private organizations running Metro parks, and argue that the bill would allow organizations that lease parks to sell sponsorships and use the money themselves. (The legislation itself did not make any mention of private organizations, but a similar policy in Charlotte, N.C., includes a provision that allows the arrangement Mitchell described. The Charlotte approach has been held up as a model by the bill's sponsors.)
"The haves are going to get even more, and the have-nots are going to get even less," Mitchell said.
Tygard, who was out of town Tuesday night, explained to Pith by phone earlier in the day that many of the sports leagues — one of which Tygard's brother is the president — and other organizations are already allowed to solicit sponsorships under their lease arrangements. Asked if his brother's position at West Nashville Sports League represented a conflict of interest, given Tygard's involvement with the bill, the councilman said he didn't believe so. For one thing, he said, his brother does not currently solicit sponsorships or advertisements for the fields WNSL uses at Warner Parks. Aside from that, Tygard said the bill would simply allow the Parks Department to solicit sponsorships just as some private organizations are already permitted to do.
Davis, who has spoken passionately about the need to allow sponsorships in parks that need improvements so that people don't have to go to the city for more money, called offers of corporate sponsorship a "blessing."
“When you have corporate sponsors willing to step up," he said, "it is a blessing, especially to a distressed neighborhood like my own.”
Mitchell attempted to defer the bill and send it back to committee, but that effort was defeated 20-11. The bill eventually passed with near-unanimous support, by a vote of 30-3.