Daniel Ruth

Playing the name game for dollars

It was not all that long ago when you couldn't drive down a byway of our fair village without bumping into something named after Dr. Kiran Patel, or his wife, Dr. Pallavi Patel, or their dog Snookums Patel.

Indeed, it was all Patel, all the time. You probably couldn't hit the loo at Hellooooo Sucker Stadium without discovering it was being sponsored by a Patel somewhere in the world.

So it had to come as something of a nagging surprise for the Patels to have awakened the other day only to learn they have a fierce competitor in the name-that-building game. This could lead to a rumble of the marquees. This could get ugly. This could be grand fun.

David A. Straz Jr. — hardly sets off all manner of bottle rockets of recognition, does it? Well, you've been warned.

The late mogul Malcolm Forbes once observed that the credo among the rich, the affluent, the to-the-manor born types, goes something like this: "He (or she) who has the most stuff at the end, wins." How pithy.

But what good does it do to have all that stuff — the cars, the houses, the yachts, the bidets, if nobody knows who you are? And let's face it, in terms of name recognition, David A. Straz Jr. probably ranks somewhere between Baghdad Bob's real name and Hamid Karzai's vice president.

All that is about to change. This week, David A. Straz Jr. coughed up a seven-figure-plus check to have the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center named after him.

Right about now the Patels are probably wondering if "Tampatel" is within their grasp.

Some people collect coins, or butterflies, or stamps, or the heads of dead animals for their dens. It would seem David A. Straz Jr. has a thing for chisels. In addition to the soon-to-be transformed David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, the banker has his moniker on the college of business and administration at Marquette University, in addition to a residence hall.

There is also a Straz Hall at the University of Tampa and a science center at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., named after — David A. Straz Jr., the one and only.

But wait! There's more. The David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Hospital at Lowry Park Zoo is named after . . . well you get the idea. And that's only fair since Lowry Park Zoo is named after the family of Straz's wife, Catherine Lowry. You might say the Lowry family didn't just gain a son when Catherine married David — they inherited a monogram machine.

Memo to Mrs. Straz: Don't get too comfy with the Lowry Park Zoo thing. It looks like your husband, who is single-handedly supporting the engraving industry, is just getting started.

Oddly enough, despite the desires of David A. Straz Jr. to memorialize his name, no one seemed particularly interested in revealing just how much the going rate for hubris is these days. Neither Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, nor Judith Lisi, the president and CEO of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, nor the man-of-the-hour himself was willing to admit how many zeroes were involved in the name change.

So let's deduce a bit. To date, the two biggest donations to the performing arts center have come from automobile dealer Frank Morsani and his wife, Carol, who gave $5 million and thus we have Carol Morsani Hall. And, of course, the Patels, who also came up with $5 million for the naming rights to the Dr. Pallavi Patel Performing Arts Conservatory, where many of Tampa's stumble-footed youth attend in the hope of someday being compared to Isadora Duncan.

So it is probably not unreasonable to speculate that if all a crummy, stinking $5 million gets you is a theater or a couple buildings named after you, certainly we are looking at a bare-bones minimum of at least $10 million to plant your name all over the entire performing arts complex.

Throw in the added expense of including a "Jr." in the deal, plus inflation since the Morsanis and the Patels last cut a check, and would it shock anyone to learn David A. Straz Jr. might well have dropped as much as $20 million (or more) to make sure everybody knows his name?

Memo to David A. Straz Jr.: The naming rights to my house are now open for bidding.

There's probably a more mercenary explanation why David A. Straz Jr. had a sudden conniption of humility in not wanting the size of his contribution to the performing arts center to be made public. After all, when you're competing against the Patels, who keep their check-writing machine on speed dial, should a cul-de-sac, or a spare playground, or elevator shaft suddenly become available for a name plate, perhaps for David A. Straz Jr. rare discretion was the better part of vanity.

Playing the name game for dollars 11/19/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 19, 2009 6:14pm]

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