BRADENTON -- During Wednesday morning's meeting, the Bradenton City Council barely approved Mosaic's request for the naming rights to downtown's Riverwalk ampitheater in exchange for a "grant" of $95,000 that will go toward the site.
News of the request from the phosphate giant had very little time to spread through the community before the meeting took place, as it was inserted into the agenda the day before the meeting. Despite the concern expressed by dissenting council members Byrd and Barnebey regarding the short amount of time that had been given on the decision, and the protests of an opposing citizen, Mayor Wayne Poston broke a 2-2 tie vote to approve the request. (Councilman Bemis Smith was absent from the meeting.)
Downtown Development Authority Executive Director David Gustafson spoke for approval of giving the naming rights to the company. He said that the DDA recently learned that Mosaic had approved a grant request that had been applied for through the DDA and Realize Bradenton, and gave praise to what he said was the company's evolved corporate responsibilty before concluding his remarks. Mosaic's VP of Public Affairs, Martha Monfried, and Johnette Isham of Realize Bradenton also spoke in favor of approving the measure.
Speaking against the measure was area resident Mary Sheppard, who noted that in phosphate mining, 40 percent of all phosphate property is left in clay settling areas, the recharge area for drought water. She called the enviromental impact of phosphate mining "disturbing" and that in spite of the company's charitable work, the council should not grant Mosaic the naming rights to the ampitheater.
With no one else in attendance to speak against the suddenly announced request, Councilman Patrick Roff motioned a vote on approval. Councilwoman Marianne Barnebey then asked Mr. Gustafson to speak before the Council again for questions.
Saying she hadn't received a copy of the grant application, Mrs. Barnebey asked him the length of time that Mosaic would own the naming rights to the Ampitheater were the request to be approved, to which Mr. Gustafson replied that the company would hold the rights in perpetuity.
Mrs. Barnebey expressed surprise at his answer, to which Mayor Wayne Poston interjected, "Do you know if naming rights to any other venues like this is not in perpetuity?" Mrs. Barnebey replied that such grants were often on a contractual basis, and said that venues such as the Autoway Ford Arena and the 1-800-ASK-GARY Ampitheater hold naming rights for only a specific amount of time. She said that when Mr. Gustafson had come to her several months ago, she believed the grant to be contractual, and the rights would not be granted to Mosaic for eternity. She mentioned that perhaps other companies, such as Tropicana, may want a chance to make a higher bid for perpetual naming rights to the venue. "I would like to support the DDA and Realize Bradenton, but I'm having a problem with this," she said.
Councilman Harold Byrd then commented that naming the ampitheater after a controversial company, whom many in the community have negative opinions of, for a sum of $95,000, was disconcerting. Councilman Gene Gallo then mentioned that the Sierra Club was opposed to the grant: "Not everyone in this world loves the Sierra Club," seemingly suggesting that the fact that an opposing group is not universally liked is a relevant factor in the debate, despite the fact that the Sierra Club is not also trying to get its name on the venue. He then praised Mosaic for their charitable work, and said he was "tickled to death" to receive a list of people that they have helped in the community. "Are they perfect? Probably not...but you take the good with the bad."
Councilman Roff spoke in support of the measure. He noted the poor state of the economy, and that he considered himself a conservationist and didn't see the move as being anti-environmentalist. "I am an official that has been given responsibility for helping to steer this city in tough economic times ... I'd be happy to take the $95,000 from Mosaic."
Mr. Byrd noted that no one on the council had a copy of the grant, and asked if a decision had to be made on the measure the same day. Mr Gustafson replied, "As it relates to the timeline, yes, it has to be done by today. The reason being is because we are in the process of manufacturing all of our signage and banners, and this has implications of potentially delaying some of the amenities for the Riverwalk."
The final remark was given by Councilwoman Barnebey: "Many times, it's not what government does, it's how government does it," again bringing up her concerns about the permanency of the naming rights, for what "some in the community might consider not enough money." The council's vote came to 2-2, with Barnebey and Byrd dissenting; thus, Mayor Poston stepped in to break the tie, voting "Yes" on the amendment.
Linda Jones, Group Chair of the Manatee-Sarasota chapter of the Sierra Club, gave a statement on the amendment's approval: "It was clear in the meeting that this came up at the last minute, and that no one on the council had even received a copy of the grant. This is a perpetual advertisement on a public building, for a strip-mining company that devastates the landscape and water resources. Putting Mosaic's name on the Riverwalk Ampitheater taints its image, and the image of Bradenton."
Expanding Phosphate Mining... Seriously?
Published Sunday, January 15, 2012
by Dennis Maley
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