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Corporate Sponsors for RA Facilities?

A consulting firm hired to help shape the future of parks and recreation in Reston is expected to propose selling corporate sponsorships.

Starbucks Swimming Pool. The Home Depot Picnic Pavilion. A Microsoft Soccer Field. Perhaps a Burger King Skatepark?

These corporate sponsorship possibilities may be hint of things to come for the Reston community over the next 10 years, according to Reston Association officials.

The idea of selling sponsorships to the business community has come up as RA is considering the future of parks and recreation. Sponsorship money could be put toward building the facility, maintenance or day-to-day operations, said Larry Butler, RA's director of parks and recreation.

"I think it's a good idea," Butler said. "Anything that helps or supports our activities in Reston is a good idea."

A Texas consulting firm has been holding focus groups and public hearings about updating RA's Recreation Master Plan. The idea of attaching a corporation to a particular facility has initially been met with a favorable reaction from residents and community leaders.

A recommendation for RA to begin selling corporate sponsorships will likely be included in the firm's final report, due at the end of the year, Butler said.

"We don't want this to be a willy-nilly free-for-all," Butler said. "But say we sell a sponsorship for a baseball field. We could use that money for general maintenance, upkeep, you name it."

CORPORATE SPONSORSHIPS could save RA potentially thousands of dollars, said RA Board Member Joe Leighton (South Lakes). Last year, the organization spent roughly $38 of each member's $415 annual dues on maintenance and upkeep of its recreation facilities.

"We could do this rather than raising dues and changing the cap or whatever," Leighton said. "It could reduce our dependence on our member dues."

Four years ago, Leighton proposed RA begin selling sponsorships for sections of Reston's 55 miles of pathways. Corporate sponsorships, he said, could be used to fund lights for dark and dangerous portions of the pathway system.

Because the business community does not pay RA dues, but has an impact Reston's environment, corporate sponsorships could give Reston businesses a chance to help protect the environment and maintain the community, Leighton said.

"We have this business community that doesn't pay us anything," he said. "They could start paying us a certain amount and we'll put up a sign or something for their contribution."

Vicky Wingert, an at-large member of RA's board, said there is significant potential for mutually beneficial partnerships between RA and the business community.

Having corporate names attached to facilities — especially sporting venues — has become a national trend, Wingert said. If RA could implement enough discretion to ensure unseemly corporations could be kept away, she said there appears to be no downside to the idea.

"Did Dan Snyder lose out when he got $6 million or whatever to make FedEx field?" she said. "I don't think so."

WHILE SPONSORING facilities would be a new concept for Reston, some businesses already sponsor community events, Butler pointed out.

Whole Foods Market and Clyde's Restaurant have both sponsored fundraising activities to help build a new Nature House, which will be located at the Walker Nature Education Center off Glade Road. And Dr. Stephan Tisseront, a local orthodontist, provides RA's lifeguards with towels, Butler said.

Corporate sponsorship is considered an effective tool for branding a business's identity, raising the company's profile in the public's eye, and for making its employees feel better about working there, said Anupam Jaju, a marketing professor at George Mason University who specializes in corporate branding.

"Organizations get both economic and non-economic benefits from corporate sponsorship," Jaju said.

Sponsorships are less effective when a corporation has a poor image — beer or cigarette companies, for example — because people tend to question the company's motives more. Sponsorship in that case, Jaju said, can be seen as less altruistic and more self-serving.

The idea of allowing any company with the cash to be attached to an RA facility worries Reston resident Sally Carroll, who first heard the idea at a recent RA Parks and Recreation public hearing.

"How do you decide what is an appropriate or inappropriate sponsor for a recreational facility?" she said.

Wingert, on the other hand, said it sounds like a simple, creative idea that could help RA offer expanded services and facilities.

"I think there's potential for some good cooperation between RA and the business community," Wingert said.