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Cook County hunts for private money
Naming rights, sponsorships, concessions on table as government, forest preserve solicit comprehensive marketing proposals from private firms

Friday, May 25, 2012
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick and John Byrne

Cash-strapped Cook County government and its more financially sound Forest Preserve District partner are looking to bring in corporate money by selling naming rights, sponsorships and concessions.

All of those, plus more mundane ideas such as advertising on county websites or placing vending machines in public spaces, are mentioned in a new county request for comprehensive marketing proposals from private firms.

"Clearly we're in a time of budgetary challenges and it's our responsibility to look at all potential revenue streams available to the county," Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said in a statement. "But the ultimate determination of which assets to market, and how, will rest on whether the sponsorship is suitable and compatible with our mission to serve the public interest. That's first and foremost."

Preckwinkle spokeswoman Liane Jackson suggested a law firm might pay to put its name on the Daley Center law library or a shoe company might pay to sponsor a forest preserve bicycle path. A landscaping company might want to advertise on the envelope flap of a county mailing, or a car shop might want to put a sign up at one of many county garages, she said.

"We're not going to have a bail bondsman sponsoring the holding cell" at the county jail, Jackson said. It's also unlikely a county building would be named after a corporate sponsor, she said. All ideas would be vetted before being implemented, she added.

As both city and county governments have grappled in recent years with budget shortfalls, they have looked for ways to bring in money without increasing property taxes. But recent efforts to sell advertisements on public spaces have produced uninspiring results for city and state government.

In 2010, Mayor Richard Daley proposed letting companies pay to decorate the city's iconic downtown bridge houses for various holidays. That endeavor fell flat, at least in part because Daley announced months later he would not run again.

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan to raise millions by getting companies to pay for putting their logos on state employee badges, and branding Earthquake Preparedness Week and the state police's tactical unit, also fizzled.

And a Chicago Park District program to allow advertising — possibly on highly visible property such as lifeguard chairs and beach umbrellas — has been slow to take off.

The soft market didn't stop Mayor Rahm Emanuel from estimating in his first budget that the city would raise $25 million this year through the branding of municipal assets, such as city-owned vehicles and the bridge houses, event sponsorships and advertisements on "intellectual property" like municipal web pages and trademarks.

Emanuel's program remains in the planning stage, with the city reviewing proposals from firms that want to head up the marketing work, administration officials said.


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