What’s in a Name? ‘Weinstein Rest Area’ Warnings Fall on Deaf Ears
By Bruce DePuyt
Weary travelers in need of a bathroom break and some coffee may one day find themselves pulling into the “Esskay Franks Rest Area” along Interstate 95.
Despite the warnings of a legislator who warned of potential “embarrassment,” both chambers have approved a measure allowing the state to sell “naming rights” to rest areas and welcome centers.
The bill — HB 54 — zoomed through the House of Delegates last month, 138-0. But there was more debate in the Senate when the measure hit the floor on Friday.
Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) led the charge.
“Suppose that 10 or 15 years ago, a company called Enron wanted to buy naming rights to our rest stops, and then we find out it was one of the biggest frauds perpetuated on the nation…You’d have a rest stop with the name Enron. Or if two years ago the Harvey Weinstein [Company] bought naming rights. It would be an embarrassment and a black eye to this state.”
“Why do we have to commercialize everything?” Pinksy asked, suggesting that rest areas and welcome centers be named for historic figures like Frederick Douglass.
Sen. James N. Mathias Jr. (D-Lower Shore) said Maryland would be foolish to refuse money from companies willing to put their name on state buildings.
“We did it in Ocean City when I was the mayor,” Mathias said. “[Critics said] we were going to lose our identity. But guess what happened? We became the first city in the United States of America that got an official soft drink — Coca Cola. You know what they paid for that? One million dollars over five years.”
Emboldened by the soft drink contract, Mathias said the city then sold ads on the shuttle buses that take beach-goers up and down the main highway.
“There are 50-foot-long french fries riding up and down the road. There are exploding caramel popcorn [ads]. And in the end, when a child is standing on the corner with his mom and his dad, they know they’re at the beach!”
“That million dollars? It took pressure off of property taxes [and] raising fees.”
Less jovial was Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County), who scolded critics of the naming rights legislation. “It’s hard to come down here and want more services, want more social workers, probation and parole officers and things like that — if we want to fund government sometimes we have to make sacrifices like this.”
The legislation gives the power to weigh naming rights applications for rest areas to the State Highway Administration. Names and logos may not be obscene, encourage violence or be “socially, racially or ethnically offensive.”
The Senate passed the bill 33-11, sending it to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) for his signature.