Community centre name should reflect vision, not myopia of bottom line

As fundraising consultant Ian Fraser outlined his campaign strategy before Cobourg council to raise $3.1 million for the new community centre, the issue of naming rights was raised.

It is not uncommon for major fundraising drives to seek extraordinary donations from corporations and, in turn, give over naming rights.  Look at the General Motors Place where the Vancouver Canucks play hockey or the Scotiabank Place where the Ottawa Senators play or the Air Canada Centre where the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors call home. But there are exceptions, as in the case of Peterborough, where the Petes play in the Memorial Centre, but some of the other hockey teams play games in the Evinrude Centre.

So, it is not unusual to give naming rights as part of a major donation. For corporations, naming of major buildings is meant as a brand-building strategy. Rather than just handing over money to a cause, the act of philanthropy is driven by a corporate agenda, as much as it is an act of generosity. It is mean to leverage the dollars to achieve two objectives instead of one.

The best, and most high profile, example locally is the Cameco Capitol Theatre. In 2006, Cameco offered the Capitol Theatre Heritage Foundation $300,000 and received naming rights.

Cameco vice-president Bob Steane, said at the time, the Capitol Arts Centre is an asset to the community and “an important investment” that will benefit the entire community culturally and economically.

It looks like politicians are lining up behind the idea. Mayor Peter Delanty has already received a blessing from MP Rick Norlock and MPP Lou Rinaldi, who both support offering the building’s name on the auction block.

However, Councillors Marian Mutton and Stan Frost raised objections last week at the council meeting, saying it was all right to offer naming rights to components of the centre, but not the name of the building itself.

There is no doubt securing a major donor in turn for the naming rights will make the fundraiser’s job easier and it will take some of the pressure off of local donors. But, this flies in the face of the values of a community like Cobourg.

It may not mean a lot to the people of Vancouver or Ottawa or Toronto that a major sports centre is sold off to a major corporation. And, other donors may not care if one donor gets special treatment due to the amount of money given rather than some other redeeming quality.

Still, in a small town in rural Ontario, the naming of building should be a matter of local pride. There are so many people – politicians, sports figures, outstanding citizens – who deserve recognition and are worthy of having a building named after them to acknowledge their contribution, provide a legacy and help us honour our history. The C. Gordon King Library is just one example.

Nobody is going to get too upset if they get changed in the Royal Bank locker room or play in the RONA ice pad. But, let’s stop and consider what message we send to the community and those who come here. Surely, we want our children and their children’s children to look back and be proud of something that reflects the entire community, not a single corporation. The name should reflect a vision, not the myopia associated with the bottom line.

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