Anger at Buffalo’s Delaware North is building online after the National Park Service and the new Yosemite National Park concessionaire changed the names of popular park attractions this week due to a lawsuit filed by Delaware North.
And Delaware North has responded.
Officials with the Park Service and Aramark, which holds the new Yosemite concessions contract, said the lawsuit filed last fall forced them to change the names of the Ahwahnee Hotel, Curry Village and other frequently visited venues at the California park.
The name changes became official Tuesday, when Aramark took over, and sparked frustration among some visitors to the park and spurred a bitter reaction online.
In two notable examples, an Internet petition calling on the Buffalo-based hospitality and tourism company to drop its trademarks court case had received more than 105,000 signatures as of late Thursday afternoon, and the founder of a news website grabbed control of Delaware North-related Internet domain names that he is offering to give away to people who will use them to pressure the company to give up its legal fight.
“Corporate tricks on our national treasures should not be rewarded. I hope they don’t pay these guys. Seems just like... Russian hackers that encrypt computers and demand ransom to get someone’s family photos back,” wrote Collin Campbell of El Cerrito, Calif., on the Care2 petition.
Delaware North officials, when asked to respond Thursday to critics who blame them for the trademark dispute, said in a strongly worded statement that it was entirely the Park Service’s decision to change the names.
“These are cherished names that hold a special place in our nation’s cultural history and Delaware North would never hold them hostage as has been inaccurately implied by the NPS,” Victoria Hong, a company spokeswoman, said in the statement.
Last summer, the Park Service selected Aramark, based in Philadelphia, over Delaware North for the new contract, worth up to $2 billion over 15 years, to operate hotels, restaurants, stores and other services in Yosemite. It is the most lucrative concessions contract in the national parks system.
Delaware North had held the contract at the park since 1993. Last fall, the company filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against the Park Service, which responded in January that the legal dispute was forcing it to rename a number of well-liked park venues.
When Delaware North first won the contract, the company said it was required to buy the tangible and intangible assets of the previous operator, the Curry Co., for $61.5 million, or $115 million in today’s dollars. That included trademarked slogans such as “Go Climb a Rock” and intellectual property such as the names of the venues.
Delaware North said that its original Yosemite contract also included an agreement that any successor company to Delaware North at the park would have to buy out all of its assets.
The company and the Park Service disagree over the value of the trademarks and other intangibles, which the company contends are worth $51 million but which the Park Service insists are worth just $3.5 million, court filings show.
The Park Service in court filings accused Delaware North of clandestinely trademarking terms such as “Yosemite National Park,” and items for sale with that name on them were removed from park gift shops by Tuesday. Delaware North responded that it did nothing underhanded in seeking trademarks on the terms.
Why change names?
The company repeatedly offered to let the Park Service and Aramark continue to use the trademarks while the court case continued, most recently on Monday offering to assign the trademarks directly to the Park Service. Delaware North officials contended the offers made it unnecessary to change the names of the venues.
“The public should be asking both Aramark and the NPS why it has turned down our multiple offers as required by our contract with the NPS at the expense of Yosemite’s history and heritage,” said Hong, the Delaware North spokeswoman.
Park Service and Aramark officials have described the offers as meaningless.
“It’s a certain amount of brinkmanship on both sides,” said Mark Bartholomew, a University at Buffalo law professor who teaches about trademark and advertising law and has studied the park system’s history. He nonetheless said he believes the parties ultimately will settle the suit.
Work crews for Aramark and the Park Service began early Tuesday to change out items with the old venue names and replace them with the new names and to temporarily cover up or modify any signs with the old venue names.
Visitors who spoke to reporters were perplexed and frustrated by the replacement names.
“It’s a crazy situation,” Dirk Kyle, who drove to Yosemite from Fresno to meet with some friends at the Ahwahnee, told the Fresno Bee. The hotel, which opened in 1927, was renamed the Majestic Yosemite Hotel on Tuesday, and electrical tape covered all uses of the old name on plaques, signs and awards in the hotel.
The fight stirred up outrage before, primarily in California, after the Park Service announced in January its intention to change the names. But the act of the rebranding has focused more bad publicity on Delaware North.
The petition site Care2 hosts a petition started five days ago by Marya Gomez, who said in an email that she and her family have cherished memories from visits to the park.
“It’s depressing that a corporation can force the Park Service to abandon our shared history,” wrote Gomez, who is also Care2’s vice president of product development.
The petition signers blamed Delaware North for the name changes, with many calling for boycotts of the company’s other business properties.
And David Brooks, the founder of Amplify Media, said he was motivated to pay about $50 to secure control of six domain names, including DelawareNorthYosemite.com, DelawareNorthTrademarks.comDelawareNorthCompany.comDelwareNorthCompanies.info
“The Jacobs family and Delaware North have taken our national identity hostage and they must be stopped,” Brooks said in the video, referring to the family that owns privately held Delaware North.