Côte-Saint-Luc naming rights idea is short-sighted

The City of Côte-Saint-Luc has lots of crazy ideas sometimes. Their latest is to start selling naming rights to municipal-owned properties like swimming pools, buildings and park benches. They aren’t giving a specific list, but have already ruled out entire parks and street names.

They have, however, refused to rule out “sharing” the name of the Samuel Moskovitch arena, named after a former mayor, with a person or company willing to pay a high enough price. That idea didn’t go over well with Moskovitch’s daughter.

Normally I’d be all for getting money from nothing, but I have reservations about this plan for a few reasons:

  1. Dilution. Henry Aubin explains this one very well. People wouldn’t know the difference between a building named for an important community leader and one named for someone with a lot of money.
  2. Permanence. The city seems to mitigate this somewhat by suggesting “renting” naming rights in addition to “selling” them. But selling names to things is a one-time cash transaction whose effects are long-lasting. Eventually everything would be named for someone, and they’d either have to keep creating new things to name or start re-naming previously-named things. Since they’ve already suggested renaming the Samuel Moskovitch Arena, the latter suggestion doesn’t seem too far-fetched.
  3. Association. Though most people who take advantage of this kind of thing will likely be rich people who want to contribute to their town’s development (and would probably get things named after them anyway), there’s the danger of having unpopular people use this. What if a Holocaust-denier wanted to name something after them? What if we get another UFIA Highway or NAMBLA Highway? They could start rejecting some proposals, but then it becomes a giant judgment call, and that’ll make things complicated.
  4. Value. Even ignoring the above problems, how many people are going to spend their money to get a plaque with their name installed on a park bench? There are very rich people who want to build a legacy, but they prefer to be “generous” and give money to schools and hospitals with unofficial quid pro quos rather than transparently buy their own recognition. And companies want to get their names out there, but they’re not concerned with ego-building. They’ll rate opportunities on a cost-benefit basis, and will probably opt more for sponsoring events than putting their names on uninteresting municipal property.

It sounds like a good idea, but I just don’t see it being any sort of magic bullet for city funding.

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