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Parkways Authority to launch corporate sponsor program

By ANDREA LANNOM

The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — The West Virginia Parkways Authority will soon be seeking corporate sponsors in hopes revenue generated will help defray costs while also enhancing various services.

The authority announced its plans last week to launch a corporate sponsor program for the 88-mile toll road. Parkways General Manager Greg Barr said corporate sponsorships are a nontraditional way to generate revenue to offset various costs. He said many other states have corporate sponsors.

Barr said the next step is to submit a request for proposal, which he hopes to do by the end of the year. He estimated proposals will be due around February or March with a decision by the Parkways board in April.

“Theoretically we could have these up and running by late summer, early fall where we actually see corporate sponsorships showing up maybe on Courtesy Patrol,” Barr said.

Barr said there are various ways corporate sponsors could be implemented. One example he gave was Courtesy Patrol vehicles.

“In other states, like Ohio and North Carolina — many other states around us, you see these motorists assist vehicles show up wrapped in a State Farm Insurance wrap or Geico Progressive Insurance,” he said. “A lot of auto insurance companies are paying the state or toll roads a fee to be able to advertise on those vehicles because they’re seen by so many people who travel those highways in the state.”

Barr said other ways could be a corporate logo on the authority’s website, a watermark on toll receipts, and on signs for toll booths. He said signs would have to pass various requirements from the Division of Highways, the Department of Transportation and billboard laws.

“The signage has to be very restrictive and has to meet federal and state guidelines,” Barr said. “The signage is tougher to work with. I do know in other states, some corporate sponsors pay a fee to sponsor a rest area, sponsor Wi-Fi at rest areas so people can get on the web in the parking lots at travel plazas.”

Barr said the authority will package offerings of its marketable assets and then request proposals. He said he has heard a few concerns along the way.

“Some people have said they’re worried it will get tacky where everywhere you go, people will be dressed like NASCAR with patches on them,” Barr said. “We will not do that. Our board will carefully review proposals to make sure everything is done in good taste and not overly done.”

“We don’t want anything distracting or anything that will be a safety concern,” Barr added.

Barr said there have been attempts to do this in the past. Barr said back in 2008, a financial adviser conducted a study to look at ways for the authority to run more efficiently and generate non-traditional sources of revenue.

“We tried to do it back then, bid it out and didn’t get many responses at all,” Barr said. “It just kind of sunk under its own weight. It didn’t take off with a lot of people responding or wanting to do something.”

He said there had been other similar efforts but those also fell through.

“Hopefully, it won’t fall through this time and we can get something done because it seems like there are a lot of other states making money to offset costs and in the long run it saves taxpayers money,” Barr said.

Barr said without doing the request for proposal, he didn’t have a definitive figure for exactly how much revenue corporate sponsorship would generate.

However, he said looking at other states, he estimated Parkways could get up to $500,000 a year if they fully market the assets they have available.

“At this time, we don’t know if one sponsor will offer to take all the assets or, for example, if an auto insurance company would take Courtesy Patrol and a cell company would take the Wi-Fi at the travel plazas,” he said. “We might get multiple proposals from different industry groups for different reasons they would want to sponsor.”

He said money could help defray costs for many things, including costs from Courtesy Patrol and Wi-Fi costs.

“It would then enable us to enhance the services we already provide by offsetting those costs with corporate sponsorships,” Barr said.

Email: [email protected]; follow on Twitter @AndreaLannom

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