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Did wordiness cost Rock Hill a $400,000 sports site deal? New name nixed for arena

What will the city of Rock Hill name the new sports arena at Knowlege Park?
What will the city of Rock Hill name the new sports arena at Knowlege Park? tkimball@heraldonline.com

A sponsor stepped up to pay $400,000 and offer more than $100,000 in medical services for naming rights of the new Rock Hill sports arena. The city declined.

Piedmont Medical Center and city staff drew up an agreement where Piedmont would pay $80,000 a year for five years. Piedmont also would provide medical services at all Rock Hill BMX Supercross Track events, at no charge to the city. In return, the hospital would get billing on the sports arena, named “The Rock Hill Sports & Events Center presented by Piedmont Medical Center.”

Rock Hill City Council wasn’t buying it.

“No. 1, it’s awfully wordy,” said Councilman John Black.

Council members had concerns putting the name on every brochure and press release related to the sports arena, set to open in the spring in the Knowledge Park area. They also had reservations about the level of investment from Piedmont compared to the city.

“We paid (about) $20 million for a building, and for $400,000 they get to attach their name to it,” said Councilman Kevin Sutton. “Not physically on the outside but in press releases and everything else. That just doesn’t feel right to me.”

John Taylor, director of Rock Hill Parks, Recreation & Tourism, said with or without a title sponsorship, the arena will keep its name. It’s just a matter of whether a tag at the end lists a presenting partner.

“It will always be known as the Rock Hill Sports & Events Center,” Taylor said.

If Piedmont or another partner becomes title sponsor, the plan would be to include that name on electronic displays in the arena and on communications for events.

“The signage will not be on brick and mortar,” Taylor said.

Council members Black, Sutton, Nikita Jackson and Jim Reno voted against the agreement. Mayor John Gettys joined council members Sandra Oborokumo and Kathy Pender in favor.

“To have a partner come in to help cover the unforeseen costs that we don’t know, may or may not arise, and it only be over a defined period of time — to me at least is something where I’d be supportive,” Gettys said.

Pender said the medical services at the BMX site shouldn’t be overlooked. Taylor estimates it would cost the city about $125,000 in medical expenses in the next five years without the agreement.

“There is also a value to what they are providing in terms of medical services for the BMX (site),” Pender said. “I think if we go back and look at what those would cost us, the value of this sponsorship is a great deal more.”

Oborokumo said the hospital is a good fit for sponsorship.

“Those are physical activities and events,” she said. “And I would want to know that there’s going to be medical facilities nearby or a part of this process. So to me, that’s a draw.”

Oborokumo said the sponsorship could matter to event participants.

“That’s going to be critical to the people who come to perform, that they have medical care in the event there is an accident,” she said.

Sutton said to him, the issue is one of scale.

“It’s not like Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte,” he said. “I just don’t see Piedmont making that kind of a contribution to get that much recognition.”

The Charlotte Observer reported Bank of America agreed in 2004 to a 20-year, $140 million deal for naming rights to the Charlotte stadium where the Carolina Panthers play home games. Sutton said he believes in recognizing city assets made possible by the city.

“Today it’s Cherry Park,” Sutton said. “It’s not Cherry Park presented by somebody else. The taxpayers of Rock Hill are on the hook for $21 million for this (new sports) facility, so I don’t necessarily know that Piedmont should be that prominent. It’s not like they paid for this facility.”

Black agrees with the idea of a sponsorship, but said he also agrees with making the site synonymous with the city.

“This is a Rock Hill facility,” Black said. “And we need to present it as a Rock Hill facility.”

Piedmont will have an urgent care site at the new center. Groups bringing in events would be responsible for paying for needed medical care.

The agreement would have had Piedmont providing care for five national and three world cup events at the BMX site. Piedmont would have been entitled to hospitality events or uses at the new arena.

Taylor said the long name was negotiated by city staff and Piedmont.

“We were not wanting to go the Giordana Velodrome route, yet they wanted the exposure,” Taylor said. “So we kind of both settled on that to put in the proposal.”

When Rock Hill opened its $5 million velodrome, cycling company Giordana paid $200,000 for naming rights lasting 10 years. Two smaller presenting sponsors paid $100,000 each. The founding partner payments were lifetime agreements.

Pender said if that decision came up today, it would be something like the Rock Hill Velodrome presented by Giordana.

“It’s an evolving process,” she said.

Several council members say they aren’t opposed to a new agreement with a shorter name or one with less prominence for the title partner.

“There (are) ways, if we can go back to the table and negotiate that with them,” Jackson said.

Black believes both parties could find common ground.

“I think it could be done tactfully and tastefully in a way that’s not so wordy,” he said. “I think there’s a way it can be done with giving them the recognition that they want.”

Other actions

Council also voted to spend more than $400,000 in hospitality tax money, a 2-percent charge on food and drink, to promote tourism.

Anne Harty, city financial officer, recommended and council approved a $350,000 artificial turf replacement at Manchester Meadows; $70,000 for maintenance, expansion and replacement of downtown seasonal decorations; and almost $8,000 for paving near the Velodrome.

The Manchester Meadows project replaces turf installed in 2006. The warranty was eight years.

“It’s outlived its useful life,” Harty said.

Council approved Family Trust Federal Credit Union to pay $100,000 a year for five years to sponsor new city buses expected to start running in April. Last month, Piedmont entered into a deal with the same terms. Winthrop University will pay twice that amount, at $1 million over five years.

The free, electric bus service will connect Rock Hill locations including Winthrop and the Knowledge Park area where the sports arena will be.

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