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Expanding city marketing partnerships

With the city of San Diego facing a significant structural budget deficit, city government's first priority should be addressing its excessive costs. However there are also creative ways to raise revenues without increasing taxes and fees on San Diego's working families.

One of these creative methods is expanding marketing partnerships between the city and private entities. Official sponsorship, naming rights, advertising, and exclusive rights are just some of the forms of revenue-generating marketing partnerships available to the city.

To its credit, the city already has some marketing partnerships -- which have already generated approximately $16 million cumulatively in revenues. But we can and should do more.

My office recently released a report that catalogues some of the innovative marketing partnership programs used by other cities and counties. Our report lays out seven recommendations for generating much-needed revenue for San Diego from these partnerships.

Over the years the city has been approached by private firms with marketing deals, only to turn them away due to lack of interest or fear of legal or technical challenges. That's why our first recommendation is to request a full catalogue of all ideas considered by the city's Corporate Partnership Program over the years as well as an explanation for why some have been rejected.

To jumpstart innovative thinking, we are asking that the city issue a Request for Information (RFI) that would solicit ideas and suggestions from local marketing firms -- the experts who know best what city partnerships would be most attractive to the private sector.

To engage the public in this process, we ask that local planning boards and community groups be surveyed for their suggestions for implementing marketing partnerships in their community.

It is likely that some of the ideas generated through this public input process will require changes to city codes prior to implementation. As such, we are requesting the City Attorney's office identify ways to modify the municipal code -- particularly the city's Signage Ordinance -- to allow flexibility for more marketing partnerships.

Our report also proposes two pilot projects be undertaken in the near term to try out new marketing partnerships.

Huntington Beach and Los Angeles County use innovative "Right-of-Way" Signage Programs to generate revenues. We propose a "Right-of-Way" Partnership Pilot Program that would allow the city to implement a limited number of comprehensively planned and tasteful pilot advertising programs and seek public reaction to the results.

In another example, the city of Dallas, Texas has gone beyond conventional marketing partnerships by allowing advertisement kiosks for the purpose of displaying advertisements and public service messages. These kiosks have netted Dallas more than $8.5 million in cash and in-kind donations.

The city has an initial kiosk program under way through the Friends of Balboa Park, but the program is extremely limited in nature and currently does not generate sufficient financial benefit to the city. By following the lead of Dallas, San Diego can net much more from advertising kiosks -- and a two-year pilot program should be launched to evaluate the effectiveness and financial benefit of kiosks.

Finally, the city should open its current management of marketing partnerships up to competitive bidding. The city's current contractor for marketing partnerships has been in place since the inception of the program in 1999. Ten years is a long time for one contractor to have this function and any expansion of the program should be re-competed under a performance-based, commission-only contract model as soon as possible.

Some may raise the concern that too many marketing partnerships could lead to commercialization of our city. While this concern is certainly valid, the success of other cities demonstrates that there can be a happy medium and balance struck on these programs.

The best way to strike that balance is to engage marketing experts, the public, and city leaders in a structured and thoughtful process to evaluate our options over the next several months.

To that end, I am encouraged that the discussion of expanding marketing partnerships is picking up steam at City Hall.

Several city councilmembers have raised this issue, and the Budget Committee will be holding hearings on our recommendations under Chairman Tony Young. The Mayor's Office has also recently indicated its interest in expanding the city's use of marketing partnerships. Even our labor unions have asked city leaders to explore more marketing partnerships.

Marketing partnerships can generate significant revenues for the city that can be used to help restore our neighborhood services and fill our budget deficit. With potential money currently being left on the table, we should push city officials to move as quickly as possible to implement changes in this program.

DeMaio is a member of the San Diego City Council, representing Council District 5.

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