More lessons from Chicago: Sell off the county's names
By Michael Lewis
Chicago's city hall was a model when Carlos Alvarez successfully campaigned to increase his powers and become Miami-Dade's strong mayor. Now, Chicago offers him another lesson: how to fill the county's coffers.
This week, responses are due to an offer to sell naming rights for the 7.8-mile Chicago Skyway Toll Bridge. Chicago has a $1.82 billion deal to hand the roadway over to private operators for 99 years, but it held back rights to the tollway's name. This week, the city will learn how much the name is worth. It could be plenty, a shot in the arm for a cash-strapped city.
Mayor Alvarez took his lesson in mayoral clout from Richard J. Daley, the heavy-fisted Chicago mayor who built the skyway in 1958. Now, Mr. Alvarez can learn from current mayor Richard M. Daley, son of the builder, about financial clout.
Just think how Miami-Dade County could rake in money if it could sell off naming rights. The county could turn a profit by turning over the people's assets to businesses.
Miami-Dade could ease into the game, selling names it's already giving away. Each year, the county renames dozens of streets to honor local residents. How about selling off those names to the highest bidder? Think of it: Instead of vanity license plates, we'd have vanity thoroughfares.
Of course, the county would have to be wary. Many of our streets have been renamed for people who subsequently took long vacations at government expense in our finest jails and prisons. So we might have to restrict who could buy the most visible roadways — or create a higher scale of charges for felons.
Another small step would be selling the names of manhole covers. Be the most important person on your block by having the sewer named for your family.
But those are baby steps in the name game. The opportunities for big bucks are many.
Sell the name of county hall. Surely the lobbyists who run the place will want their firms' names on the door.
Think of Miami International Airport. American Airlines is already in charge, so why not show off with a formal title? On the other hand, putting the name "American" on a facility where English speakers are so scarce might just be playing into the hands of Rep. Tom Tancredo.
The Port of Miami could become Carnival Seaport, just a short boat ride from the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts. Carnival could then run a revenue-generating Carnival Water Taxi between the two — or just buy naming rights to the water-taxi service the county is now seeking.
And when the Port of Miami tunnel is finally dug, the county could sell off naming rights there, too. Drano Tunnel might be appropriate.
Other transportation modes could produce revenue, too. Sell off the names of every express bus. Sir Speedy Printing or Rush Messenger Service should be interested.
That's all obvious stuff. But the county has so much more to sell.
Would Modern Bride covet the rights to the marriage-license bureau? Alpo and Purina could be rivals in the fight to have their names on every dog license. Think of the sales tie-in every time you go to the HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster or Random House public library.
Sell the services, too. How about Yahoo!, the county Web site? Think of the National Enquirer trash collectors.
Based on the flow of $7 billion in county spending annually, how about a regional soft-drink bottler promoting its Green River county budget?
But since few big companies make Miami-Dade their home base, big-ticket sponsorships might be hard to come by. That's probably why Wayne Huizenga had to stick his own team's name on Dolphin Stadium after a years-long effort to sell the name to some national brand.
But I'm sure the mayor is creative. To lighten the load on any one sponsor, take a lesson from the hospitality industry and create time-share sponsorships. By using electronic signs, we could easily change the names on streets and county buildings once a week.
Might be a little hard to find your way around town with all the changes, but it would be worth it to have so much more county money available to spread around to good friends. Just like Chicago.