This Bird Has Flown
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This Bird Has Flown

In a recent argument in favour of the heritage value of the Sam’s sign, the billboards in Yonge-Dundas Square were compared to “banner ad slots on a Web page” due to their ephemeral nature. Well, the same could be said of our cultural institutions.
The agenda of the June 25th meeting of City Council’s Executive Committee [PDF] contains a report recommending that the naming rights of the Hummingbird Centre be resold [PDF]:

The financial pledge from Hummingbird Communications Ltd. to the City of Toronto and the subsequent voluntary renaming by the City of the former O’Keefe Centre was cancelled earlier in 2006 pursuant to an agreement between Hummingbird Communications Ltd. and The Hummingbird Centre (the “Centre”). Subsequent to such agreement, Hummingbird Communications Ltd. was sold to OpenText and has since ceased to exist as a separate company.

Fair enough. But it continues:

This situation combined with the desire to raise funds […] has led the Board of Directors of the Centre to pursue a new naming rights partner. After discussions with numerous potential naming partners, a company has been identified that is prepared to make the largest investment in the naming rights for the theatre as set forth in the confidential attachment.

And which company is that? Well, it’s “set forth in the confidential attachment.” So unless you’re a city councillor or a Hummingbird Centre board member, you aren’t allowed to know until it’s a done deal. It’s one thing for private corporations to behave in this way; if they want to rename a movie theatre after a bank or a sports stadium after a media conglomerate or a theatre after a camera company, they have every right to make short-sighted (and publicly unpopular) cash grabs. But for our own government to do it without even allowing a minimum opportunity for public input is shameful.
The Centre was originally built by the O’Keefe Brewing Company, which owned it from 1960 (its opening) until 1968, when they transferred ownership to what was then Metropolitan Toronto. In 1996, the naming rights were sold to software company Hummingbird Communications Ltd. for $5 million. Now they’re being offered to the highest bidder of the “over 360 companies” solicited by the marketing consultants of WAM: “Of the companies approached, WAM has identified the designated company as being the company interested in providing the greatest financial consideration in exchange for acquiring naming rights to the Theatre.”
Well, can we at least finally expect some degree of permanence?

The financial terms of the proposed naming rights agreement, for either the 10-year offer or the 20-year term, represent fair market value as the terms are comparable to other recent naming rights agreements which are discussed more fully in the confidential attachment.

So, really, they’re just renting the naming rights. And, what do you know, it’s apparently good value compared to “other recent naming rights agreements” about which they won’t tell us.
All of this to pay for a new Daniel Libeskind building that the Star thinks will be located in Winnipeg.
UPDATE (June 26): The high bidder, as it turns out, was Sony.
Photo by Ian Muttoo on Flickr.