EDITORIAL Naming rights for state buildings? How about for lawmakers

June 15, 2017
Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter Exterior of the Observer-Reporter building in Washington.

It used to be the public spaces where we congregated to watch sports or be entertained carried names that were straightforward and, frankly, kind of boring.

Pittsburgh had Civic Arena. Cleveland had Cleveland Stadium. Baltimore had the Baltimore Civic Center. Toledo, Ohio, had the Toledo Sports Arena. You get the picture. San Francisco’s Cow Palace was about as exotic and offbeat as it got.

No more. Civic Arena, Cleveland Stadium and the Toledo Sports Arena are now gone, having been replaced by gleaming new structures with ever-shifting monikers. Civic Arena’s replacement used to be called the Consol Energy Center. Now, just seven years into its life, it’s been rechristened PPG Paints Arena. It will undoubtedly have a couple more names before it faces the wrecking ball. And consider the concert venue in Burgettstown. Throughout its 27-year history, it’s been Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheater, the Post-Gazette Pavilion, First Niagara Pavilion and, more recently, KeyBank Pavilion. It was in the 1990s or thereabouts that the realization came that naming rights could be a handy revenue generator for facility owners and sports teams.

The name “Civic Arena” may be scented with nostalgia, but it doesn’t pay the bills.

Considering the pocketbook woes Pennsylvania is facing, with gaping deficits in the crystal ball and a last-minute bill rushed through the state House of Representatives that would put gambling on just about every corner, some creative thinking is in order.

And state Sens. David Argall, a Republican from Schuylkill County, and Randy Vulakovich, a Republican who represents Fox Chapel, Ross Township and other communities in northern Allegheny County, have done just that.

Last month, they introduced a bill that would sell naming rights to public buildings. Vulakovich explained that “it’s no secret we are in a tough fiscal situation right now regarding the upcoming budget and we need to explore innovative ways to cut our costs and raise revenue.” If it becomes law, they explained, it would be similar to the action the commonwealth took five years ago when it took $750,000 from food retailer Weis Markets, and the Farm Show Complex Exposition Hall in Harrisburg became the Weis Exposition Hall.

When you’re contemplating pulling up couch cushions in the state Capitol to find every spare penny, naming rights might seem to be a feasible option. There is, of course, something that should make us all uneasy about buildings that belong to all of us being given the names of corporations and other entities. It’s one thing to name a concert venue, say, Jiffy Lube Live (which is the name of an amphitheater west of Washington, D.C.), but the Jiffy Lube State Office Building?

PennLive columnist John L. Micek made an interesting point: If we are going to bestow naming rights on buildings, how about taking the next step and doing the same for lawmakers?

“It’d be a quick and easy way to tell who’s paying your favorite lawmaker,” Micek wrote. “Naming rights could be based on their biggest campaign contributors, making it that much easier to tell who has their finger on the scale of our politics.”

Now that’s an idea whose time has come.

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