Roadside rest area sponsorship deal approved

2013-10-15T00:00:00Z Roadside rest area sponsorship deal approvedBy Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
October 15, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX — Your next pit stop while driving along the lonely stretches of Arizona highways could be sponsored by Google.

Or McDonald’s, or ... you name it. For the right price, just about anyone can put their name on one of the state’s 25 maintained rest stops.

A new deal approved by the Department of Transportation will pay Tennessee-based Infrastructure Corp. of America $18.3 million over five years to tend the rest areas, and allows the company to sell sponsorships for each rest area, as well as commercial advertising space inside each of them.

The agreement, the state’s first-ever such partnership, requires ICA to share some of the sponsorship and advertising revenue with the state, with a minimum guarantee of $355,000 over five years — and close to $1 million if ICA gets five more one-year extensions — that can be used to maintain roads.

None of this was ADOT’s idea. The unsolicited proposal came to the agency about a month after ICA contributed $10,000 to Jan Pac in February. That’s the federal political action committee run by Gov. Jan Brewer that she uses to support congressional candidates of her choosing.

ICA also spent another $6,400, in what it called “transportation,” to benefit Jan Pac as part of her Tennessee fundraising trip in February.

Brewer said while she is a supporter of public-private partnerships, she never discussed any sort of contract with ICA officials while she was there.

“I went to Tennessee on behalf of the (Republican) party back there and (Congresswoman) Marsha Blackburn and spoke to a large group of people,’’ the governor said. Brewer said while she was there, she also took the opportunity to raise money for Jan Pac.

“I met a lot of different people,’’ Brewer said. “They were very welcoming and very supportive, and I received other money out of Tennessee.’’

Gail Lewis, ADOT’s director of P3 Initiatives — that’s short for Public-Private Partnerships — said until now ADOT has had 14 separate contracts for the 25 rest areas. While the $3.3 million annual total was about $100,000 less than the new pact, Lewis said the prior contracts did not cover everything that needed to be done, like filling soap dispensers between cleanups.

And the contract requires on-site staffing 16 hours a day.

But what really made the deal work, Lewis said, were changes in federal laws that now allow states to have sponsorships and advertising in the rest areas along roads built or maintained with federal dollars.

“We’re not selling naming rights to the rest areas,’’ she said. “So the Sunset Point Rest Area will still be the Sunset Point Rest Area.’’

Instead, the sponsor will be able to put a small sign with the company logo along the highway guiding travelers to where they can stretch their legs and relieve themselves. And the sponsor will also get some rights to advertising within the rest area.

But direct sales — other than the vending machines whose proceeds benefit the blind — will remain off-limits.

“Starbucks may have the ability to do some advertising,’’ Lewis explained. “But they won’t be selling any coffee because that’s not part of the deal. And we’re prohibited under federal law from allowing that.’’

Similarly, Lewis said, a pet store might sponsor a dog-walking area within a rest stop.

Advertising within the rest area is a bit different, according to Mike Shinn, ICA’s director of client services — most significantly, because it cannot be seen from the roadway.

“But within the facility itself, you can do things to try to generate revenue,’’ Shinn said. So a company might be willing to set up a free Wi-Fi hotspot within the rest area in exchange for getting the credit. A hotel chain might have an interactive computer terminal to make reservations. Or a bank might decide an ATM makes sense at the site.

And the state itself could set up terminals to sell lottery tickets.

He would not say how much a sponsorship might cost, or even provide information on the price tag for similar deals in other states where ICA has similar contracts. “It’s whatever the advertiser thinks it’s worth,’’ Shin said.

There are limits on who — and what — can be promoted.

ICA, which runs its own in-house advertising agency, is required to screen potential advertisers and sponsors to ensure they are in compliance with nondiscrimination laws.

The contract prohibits denigrating groups based on gender, religion, race, ethnic or political affiliations, and sponsorship cannot come from any group that has “historically advocated’’ such policies.

Also out of bounds are obscene or pornographic messages or anything containing “an offensive level of sexual overtone, innuendo or double entendre.’’

Anything political is similarly off-limits.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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