By the end of the month, the town of Atherton will send all residents letters informing them that it will recognize donors who support its $31.6 million new civic center by granting naming rights to specific buildings or elements, including a new roadway and an adult reading deck at the new library, according to City Manager George Rodericks.
During a Feb. 5 meeting, council members approved the text for a letter and a list of about 20 naming rights opportunities for donors – and their associated donation amounts ranging from $4,000 to $5 million – to send along with it.
Council member Mike Lempres wondered if it would make more sense to hold off on deciding on naming rights until the buildings are completed.
"We might be more successful by taking a bit of a break in the formal process and waiting until we have the buildings more completed and then reigniting it in a new process to really flesh it out and think it through," he said during the meeting.
But Mayor Rick DeGolia noted that the town could reduce the amount of money it takes out through a "certificates of participation" financing mechanism (COPs) if the project receives more donations.
Currently, the town plans to use about $7 million in COPs over a 10-year term to finance part of the project's construction costs. Without an influx of cash, the town's general fund is projected to be in the red by $1.9 million by October, according to staff. The town would need to finalize its decision on the COP funds by August to receive the money in September, DeGolia explained.
The new civic center is slated for completion in 2021 and includes a new mission-style building housing police offices, town administration, building and planning offices, and a council chamber/emergency operations center connected to the new library. The library portion of the project is fully financed by library funds, while the rest is being paid for through donations and the town's general fund. According to current projections, $6 million in project costs would come from donations already made to Atherton Now, while nearly $25 million is expected to come out of the general fund.
Vice Mayor Elizabeth Lewis said residents largely didn't know that their donations could be used for commemorative naming opportunities.
"I think it (the naming rights) would give people a sense of participating in the town's historic building of the center, it creates more of a sense of community," she said.
The letter that will be sent to residents states that the new civic project is "by far the town's largest undertaking."
"It is truly an historic event, and we want to make sure you are a part of it," the letter, included in a town staff report prepared for the meeting, states. "Through your donation to the Town Center project you have the opportunity of having your family's name, or in memory of a loved one, within the Town Center and Library areas."
DeGolia noted residents have approached him about four of the 20 different naming opportunities.
Atherton Now, the nonprofit formed to raise private funding for the civic center, will contact those who have already donated to the project, council members said. Before the meeting, the council planned to contact donors who had given less than $100,000 about naming rights, but Atherton Now organizers asked to contact all donors themselves.
For several months, staff has suggested that offering a naming rights option might increase donor contributions. The issue came into focus in September when DeGolia mentioned that a resident expressed interest in loaning the town money for the project.
DeGolia said the resident could have his or her name put on a building or be similarly recognized in exchange for a zero-interest loan. The council ultimately opted not to pursue the loan.
Donors of more than $500,000 will be recognized with "discrete plaques," 8.5 inches by 11 inches in size, the council decided at the meeting. They also decided that plaques be half the size for donations less than $500,000. This would be separate from recognitions included on a donor wall, according to a staff report.