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MontCo parks could be in business with corporate sponsors

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Local,Maryland,Kate Jacobson

Montgomery County residents soon might see their children playing at a Marriott ball field or attending park festivals sponsored by Honest Tea if a proposed corporate sponsorship policy is adopted.

The county Department of Parks is proposing a corporate naming and sponsorship policy for its park facilities, such as playgrounds and ice rinks, and allowing advertising at park events.

Funds would be used to expand park services, which have been cut as the county has faced several years of budget shortfalls, said parks spokeswoman Kate Stookey.

Under the proposal, companies could purchase naming rights for certain facilities, sponsor specific events or get advertising rights for their product, as long as it is not obscene, discriminatory or inappropriate for children. Companies would not be able to sponsor entire parks or rename facilities.

Residents shouldn't expect excessive signs or being inundated with advertising while they're at the local parks, Stookey said.

"We won't be erecting billboards in our parks," she said, adding the county was looking to create "responsible and tasteful" advertising opportunities.

The idea was hatched after the department was looking for new ways to fund programs and facilities as its budget was shrinking.

In summer 2010, the county couldn't afford keeping its port-a-potties running at local parks. It cut its $155,000 potty operation to save money, but sponsors came forward to foot the bill after residents cried out against the plan.

Now, the agency is looking to expand what was originally an accidental sponsorship.

Montgomery County looked to other municipalities that established sponsorships -- including Gaithersburg. Kim Lamphier, resource development administrator for Gaithersburg's Department of Parks, Recreation and Culture, said the city has done sponsorships since 2011, and the money it has received has funded community events such as the Celebrate Gaithersburg fall festival.

"Businesses care about their community," she said. "It allows them to participate in a meaningful way."

Stookey said some neighborhood associations expressed concern about how the sponsorship program would be implemented but she said she assured residents it wouldn't affect the way they use parks.

Burton Gray, president of the Cabin John Civic Association, said he believes the partnerships could greatly improve the quality of county parks -- if done correctly.

"If it serves to bring more funds and resources into the parks system," he said, "I think that's a good thing."

The Montgomery County Planning Board is scheduled to hear the proposal on Jan. 31.

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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