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WHY BE ANONYMOUS? YOUR NAME IN LIGHTS ON TAXPAYER PROPERTY

CITY HALL. What is your bid?
The Erie County Courthouse. Make Mr. Gorski an offer.
Attention, private citizens and businesses. Think of any city- or county-
owned property. Then picture your name, or the name of your company, on it.

Imagine. The Erie/Diet-Rite Cola County Courthouse. The Patrick M. O'Hoolihan Memorial Auditorium.

Unthinkable? Think again.

Corporate sponsorship is a way of life in America. Everything from rock groups to halftime scores is brought to you by some beer brewer or antacid maker. It's capitalism gone berserk.

Given their annual battle of the budget, it's no surprise local governments are willing targets.

In Buffalo, we already have a baby gorilla named for a hamburger chain and a baseball stadium named after a Philadelphia air freight company.

Now Al Coppola, one of our more imaginative Common Council members, is taking bids on the city's new skating rink. For the right price -- say, oh, five grand a year -- the Lafayette Rink in North Buffalo could conveniently be retitled Whopper With Fries Arena.

"That would at least pay the electric bill," said Coppola, who already has been contacted by Coca-Cola about the idea.

We have seen the future, and it is ugly, tacky and commercialized.

It could also, if you have money in the bank and a yen for renown, be all you.

The way the economy is going, every government-owned pavilion, parking garage and playground will eventually be put up for grabs, name-wise.

Private citizens have as much right as corporations to get in on the fun.

Look at it this way. Most folks work hard and live by the rules -- but do it in relative anonymity.

Here's a chance for them to grab a small slice of immortality.

To some, the thrill of having their name atop a public facility might be worth a couple of thousand bucks.

It doesn't have to be City Hall or one of the courthouses. Heck, a parking ramp probably would set you back only a few hundred annually. Ponder it. Today, the Mohawk Ramp. Tomorrow, the Stuart S. Szenkowicz, Esq., Parking Facility.

True, some of our parking ramps already bear a person's name. And in fact, these folks were (or are) fine citizens. But, as Coppola astutely noted, "The city isn't getting any money for it."

Given the fiscal crunch, this is no time for sentiment.

Parking ramps not your style? How about a city- or county-owned swimming pool, playground or garage?

In at least one respect, private naming rights are preferable to corporate monikers.

To explain: Suppose Empire of America had bid on, and won, naming rights to the downtown baseball stadium.

Imagine the ignominity of it all last summer, the shame for the city, when Empire went belly-up. Imagine the E and M and P and the rest being torn off the facade. Imagine the place going nameless for months, or -- more confusing -- being renamed in midseason. From Empire Field to, say, JCPenney Stadium, in the blink of a creditor's eye. We never would have lived it down.

Of course, naming a place after a person is not without hazard, either. For instance, suppose the fellow whose name graces the county courthouse goes on a bender. Robs a bank, steals a car, tears the tag off a mattress. Admittedly, an awkward situation. What to do? Put the building up for bid again? Or carry on as usual, pretending nothing happened?

Questions for the ages, no doubt.

In the meantime, a modest proposal. Because the county and city aren't putting price tags on public buildings (not yet, anyway), why not make an offer? Bid on a piece of public property you'd like named after you.

Rules: The property must be publicly owned (in other words, you can't put your name on your neighbor's house). The bid is for one year of naming rights.

Explain what you want named after you, why you want it and how much you're willing to bid for the annual rights.

Forward bids to me. I'll publish the best offers. Then it will be up to the city or county to take it. Or leave it.

Christmas is coming. What better way to surprise loved ones than by naming public property after them?

Picture the scene on Christmas morning.

"Here you go, Mom -- that playground near Main Street, where you used to take us when we were kids. For the next year, it will be called the Ludmilla Rec Center."

Your mother brushes aside what you suspect are tears of gratitude, all the while wondering if this rules out the VCR she had hoped for.

For those not well-off enough to afford their own parking ramp or playground, much less City Hall, there are modestly priced options.

For instance, a bench downtown. For, say, $50 a year, the city could attach a small plaque with your name on it. You'd stand out from the crowd. The city, in return, could afford to paint the thing.

Admittedly, bidding is an inexact science. Pilot Field, for instance, goes for $50,000 annually. It cost the Rich family a cool million to slap their moniker on that oversize stadium in Orchard Park.

Don't, however, be discouraged by the high cost of stadium-
naming. Benches and parking garages are more reasonably priced.

Good luck. And remember -- this is America, 1990. Fame may be only a few bucks away.

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