Asheville City Council to consider selling naming rights to downtown plaza for $1.5 million

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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Asheville City Council will consider selling the naming rights to a portion of a downtown plaza for $1.5 million on Tuesday, according to council’s published agenda. The State Employees Credit Union has agreed to give the Asheville Art Museum $1.5 million for its renovation plans in return for the ability to name the plaza in front of the main art museum entrance “SECU Plaza.”

The Asheville Art Museum has been trying to raise millions for the past several years, and that effort has been met with controversy. A former Asheville mayor has been waging a crusade against the effort, arguing that the museum’s $24 million renovation plan has destroyed the nonprofit Pack Place.

This latest proposal will likely also be met with resistance.

Here’s the agenda summary:

The consideration of a request to approve a naming rights agreement between Asheville Art Museum (AAM) and the NC State Employee’s Credit Union Foundation (SECU) for the naming of a portion of the Plaza located at 2 S. Pack Square, proceeds to benefit the AAM capital campaign for the major renovation of the museum.

Here are more details, also from the agenda:

The City and AAM have entered into a lease for a portion of the city owned property located at 2 Pack Square for continued use as an art museum. As part of the lease negotiations, the AAM has long made clear its plans for a major, multi-million dollar renovation of the museum space and its need to raise funds to accomplish this renovation. As part of these fund raising efforts, it was anticipated by both AAM and the City that AAM would be permitted to raise funds through the granting of naming rights. Specifically, section 1(i) of the Lease regarding “Programmable Area” states, that “advanced written approval by the City shall be required for any signage and naming rights in the AAM Programmable Area” and further states that, “any such approved use may not impair public access or use of City rights of ownership”.

A formal request from AAM regarding its naming rights agreement with SECU is attached. In sum, SECU has agreed to donate $1.5 million toward the museum renovation in return for the ability to name the plaza area in front of the main art museum entrance “SECU Plaza”. The donation is tied to the museum’s ability to achieve a certain level of its capital campaign goals and to begin the renovation. Approval of the signage shall be subject to all usual City review requirements and regulations. The City is not a party to the naming rights agreement and bears no responsibility for ensuring that the terms of the agreement are met. The term of the naming rights runs with the term of the lease.

The aforementioned lease provision did not specify the process for city approval. However, Staff has researched past and current procedures and policies for the granting of approval for naming rights and has determined this process for approval of the current request before the Council, is consistent with past and present procedures. For example, in 2004, the City Council granted the Pack Square Conservancy the ability to manage naming rights for the park in order to raise funds for park improvements. Generally, major park features were named for individuals or organizations that had made significant historic or cultural contributions to Western North Carolina. More recently, in March 2014, City Council adopted a policy for the naming of publicly owned properties that stated, among other things, that consideration should be given for naming property for individuals or organizations that had made significant financial or civic contributions to the City of Asheville and more generally, to recognize noteworthy individuals and or organizations that have served the community with honor and distinction.

While this policy provided general guidelines for the naming of public property, it specifically stated that it did not limit Council’s authority to use its discretion based on the facts and circumstances surrounding a particular issue.

This isn’t the first time the city has sold naming rights to some of its taxpayer owned property. Back in 2011, the city faced some heated debate when it announced a plan to renamed the Asheville Civic Center the U.S. Cellular Center. The terms of the deal: $750,000 over five years, plus capital cost-sharing and an extension option. U.S. Cellular had been in talks with the city’s economic development director, Sam Powers, for about a year before the deal was done. More on the terms:

U.S. Cellular agreed to an additional $60,000 in capital cost-sharing and a five-percent attendance incentive or deduction over four years for an additional $32,000 based on attendance benchmarks. There is an optional three-year extension to be decided later, which will increase the naming rights cost $511,310. The venue will also receive marketing and promotional assistance from U.S. Cellular.


Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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  1. luther blissett October 31, 2014

    From the C-T’s (terrible) piece on Council accepting the fait accompli on F-You Plaza:

    Myers didn’t speak at the Tuesday City Council meeting and didn’t respond to a phone call Wednesday afternoon.

    Well, of course not. Pam Myers gets to do whatever she wants with her unaccountable little fiefdom in the heart of downtown, and City Council is either complicit or powerless. Does she have a stash of pictures in one of the storage rooms showing council members in compromising positions with goats?

    (I just checked to see whether she was unavailable because she was on the AAM’s arty jaunt around Holland and Belgium, but that was earlier in the month.)

    This is an embarrassment. Who runs Asheville?

  2. cwaster October 27, 2014

    What a terrible idea.

  3. Ascend October 25, 2014

    The city needs to hire professional help. This is the civic center all over again. What does the city’s staff even know about fundraising? What does the city staff even know about stewardship? Not a damned thing, that’s what.
    They are selling ideas and concepts, and making deals that they do not really even understand. They need to seek consultation before going forward.

  4. Davyne Dial October 25, 2014

    The “I will SECU for every dolla” Asheville Art Museum Plaza.

  5. roo October 25, 2014

    so for one million five hundred thousand one dollars, that plaza will get named? my money’s on red bull plaza.

  6. luther blissett October 24, 2014

    Sec-You Plaza? Well, that’s not going to turn into an obscene nickname very quickly, is it?

    Though I’ll just call it “Myers’ Folly” instead.

    1. RedHotPoker October 28, 2014

      is consummate democrackkk Gordon Myers involved with this money grab ???

      this is democrackkk council running amouk…

      I thought SECU was a NON profit? 😉

  7. Nate October 24, 2014

    I get that the Museum has the right to sell naming rights to individual galleries or other interior spaces, but they are a tenant in that building, not the owner. I don’t think they should have the ability to sell naming rights to the building itself or to the plaza outside. That plaza is clearly a section of the larger city park complex in that area, and not in any way integral to the museum.

    If the city got the money, that would be a different story, but basically this amounts to selling naming rights to public property such that it exclusively benefits a private non-profit, rather than the community as a whole. Thumbs down, even for such a tasteful and modestly branded donor.

  8. Barry Summers October 24, 2014


    “Oh yeah, well what if the American Petroleum Institute offered $2 million? Or if the Ayn Rand Institute offered $3 million? I bet those commies wouldn’t take it… Nazis. Whatever.”


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