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Is nothing sacred?

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Friday's Wall Street Journal reported a new low in corporate advertising, and in the desperation of cash-strapped institutions: A 140-foot-long billboard now dominates the front of Grace Church on Broadway in New York City.

                  The church sold advertising rights on the billboard to Citibank (and, before it, to Infinity) to help pay for some crucial, expensive restoration.

                  Here at home, the Doyle administration is preparing to sell naming rights to some of the shelters in the county parks. The purchasers get a plaque in the shelter.

                  OK: The administration isn't proposing billboards on the façade of the shelters, or flashing lights over the fireplaces. And maybe I shouldn't get worked up about this. A discreet little plaque isn't what companies look for when they buy naming rights, so the county may not get many takers. The principle's a bad one, though, and we oughta fight it.

                  We're talking about public parks here: something generations of Monroe County residents have been proud of --- and have been willing to pay for, through their taxes. The Doyle administration, of course, is obsessed about taxes, refusing to let the county's tax income even keep up with modest inflation. The result is a real financial crisis.

                  And so the Doyle administration is looking for new, non-tax income anywhere it can find it. If it can sell naming rights to public property, why not broaden the concept? The county could sell sporting-goods stores the rights to Mendon Ponds' spectacular hiking and cross-country ski trails. It could sell swimwear companies the naming rights to Ontario Beach.

                  It could sell naming rights to an entire park! What's so sacred about the names "Mendon Ponds" or "Genesee Valley," after all? Why not name them after local companies, and hang large banners at the entrances? (Why not sell naming rights to the entire county?)

                  I know, I know; selling naming rights has become routine. That doesn't make me like it. (And yes, this newspaper did object when the city sold Blue Cross-Blue Shield the naming rights to the War Memorial.)

                  The Doyle administration's attitude toward parks is nothing new. If it hadn't run into money problems, it would have already paved part of Seneca Park for a parking lot. It put a commercial light show in Northampton Park. (The show would have been put in Mendon Ponds, but neighbors howled and spooked Republican leaders, who were afraid the flack would cost them a County Legislature seat.) The administration privatized the public golf course in Genesee Valley Park, which subsequently led to the cutting down of numerous old trees. It proposed selling off part of Webster Park.

                  The Doyle administration has the authority to sell shelter naming rights (up to $5000) without any public input, and without the approval of the County Legislature. And anyway, public protest isn't likely to impress Doyle. But maybe the threat of public protest would concern companies thinking about buying those naming rights.

                  We'll name names. Maybe you'll write letters.

                  Want to comment? Write or The Mail, City Newspaper, 250 North Goodman Street, Rochester 14607. Please include your name, address, and daytime phone number.

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