Places to escape from the constant bombardment of advertising are few and far between and they could become even scarcer under a proposal county officials are floating to sell sponsorships along the Pinellas Trail.
The idea is similar to the "Adopt a Highway" program in that a company would have its name or logo on a "discreet" sign that could be placed along the trail, on a mile marker or bench, for example. The difference is that, rather than earning the sign by laboring to keep the area neat, the company would pay for it. It's unclear how much that might be.
A citizens parks advisory board approved the idea Thursday — at least as far as trying a pilot project with Bikepath Country, a Fort Myers company that says it is the only one in the United States to provide such a service. Bikepath Country would take a percentage of the advertising fees. The rest would go to Pinellas County.
Paul Cozzie, bureau director of the county's parks and conservation resources department, said setting up a pilot could take a while. It's uncertain, he said, where on the trail a pilot project might be set up.
For Pinellas County, the goal is simple: Find the money to take care of the trail and parks without raising taxes. The county already charges entry fees for certain parks, but those aren't filling the funding hole and they're unpopular with some.
"I'm not in favor of park fees (so) how else can we generate money?" county Commissioner Norm Roche said.
But the idea of selling advertising, even if it's called sponsorships, is a touchy one.
"I'm cautiously supportive," said Dave Kandz of the St. Petersburg Audubon Society. He also serves on the county's Parks and Conservation Resources Board. A lot, he said, depends on the cost and how discreet the sign really is.
County Commissioner Ken Welch is also cautious.
"I'm supportive, but we have to do it very carefully," Welch said.
The county floated a similar idea in 2005, but it was not well received, he said. But times, and the economic realities, have changed. This time, there might not be so much resistance. Especially if it's "tastefully done," Welch said.
The company's website, bikepathcountry.com, promises just that. The signs, it says, are ecofriendly and parklike, as well as attractive and nonobtrusive. The signs can be tailored to the area.
Roche said he believes the county's thinking is too limited.
"Don't explore it for the trail. Explore it for the whole concept," Roche said. "It should also be in Pinellas County parks."
Roche cautioned that he did not believe an entire park should be named after a company the way football and baseball stadiums are. The parks should always be seen as "Pinellas County parks."
"Our taxpayers own them," Roche said.
But, he said, a company could buy a sponsorship of pieces of the parks, such as bathrooms, pavilions and water fountains.
"I don't see much wrong with that if it helps build support for our parks," Roche said.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.