Bridging Golden Gate’s financial future

It may never be known as “Pepsi Presents the Golden Gate Bridge,” but corporate sponsorship may play a role in the future of the iconic-but-underfunded roadway.

Naming rights for the 1.7-mile bridge that joins San Francisco and Marin counties will not be up for sale, but corporate sponsors would play a behind-the-scenes role under a proposed sponsorship model to be unveiled Friday, Golden Gate Bridge and Transportation District spokeswoman Mary Currie said Tuesday.

“It’s not going to be about naming rights. It’s not going tobe a branding of the bridge identity or any change in that,” Currie said.

She said the bridge district is examining the National Park Service Proud Partners program, which keeps corporate logos and names off attractions and acknowledges sponsorship in park literature.

The district looked to the best practices of several other major landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty, the Smithsonian and the Washington Monument, that have used corporate sponsors, Currie said.

But while public officials and watchdog groups will eye any deal with suspicion, so will corporations, according to one expert.

“Sponsorship done well is not the title — it’s not AT&T Park. It’s not McAfee Coliseum. It’s what you do with it once you have it. What you are buying is rights,” said John Laurant, of Forge Sponsorship Consulting. “DuPont does not pay Jeff Gordon to drive around in a circle. If they’re going to make money on that deal, it’s what they do off the car. The challenge for the bridge is that you don’t have that component.”

Laurant said that, depending on the level of exposure, it may be difficult to persuade potential corporate sponsors that the bridge is a good investment.

The bridge district turned to corporate sponsorship after the bridge closed a $450 million budget shortfall in 2002 to a current five-year shortfall of about $80 million, Currie said. Operators had raised tolls, fares and concession prices to the extent the public would tolerate, but the district was still in debt. The goal is to attract $4 million in corporate revenue during the next five years, Currie said.

Funding landmarks

The Golden Gate Bridge will not be alone when it hits up corporate America for money.

Statue of Liberty

» Supported by the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, founded bythen-Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca in 1982 at the request of then-President Reagan. According to the Web site, the foundation has collected $500 million from individual and corporate donations.

Washington Monument

» A 1996 renovation named Target as the lead sponsor of the National Monument Restoration Project, guaranteeing $1 million, according to the National Park Service. The National Parks Foundation and Target also raised an additional $4 million.

The Smithsonian

» The museums in Washington, D.C., offer corporate memberships. Coca-Cola is listed as the only corporate partner. Mars Inc. is the only corporate leader.

amartin@examiner.com


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