What’s in a name? That’s what the mayor and City Council are now trying to determine.

A new proposed policy on what and who public facilities can be named for and the process to do so was discussed last month and a vote on the policy could take place at the council’s May 21 meeting.

For the right price, a corporation, individual or foundation can have the naming rights for the new building planned for the Dunwoody Nature Center, as drawn in this rendering, as part of the center’s current $2.6 million capital campaign. (Dunwoody Nature Center)

Parks and Recreation Director Brent Walker told the council in April that the issue of naming new parks, streets, facilities and recreation areas came up with the recent opening of new parks and planned new facilities.

In 2015, for example, the city held a contest to name the city’s park on Pernoshal Court. Low community participation in a name-the-park contest resulted in the city ditching the public’s suggestions and at first naming the site the Park at Pernoshal Court when it opened in 2016. The city now informally calls it Pernoshal Park.

The Dunwoody Nature Center in Dunwoody Park is also building a new park pavilion set to open perhaps as soon as June and is in the midst of a nearly $3 million capital campaign to construct a new 7,000-square-foot building that will include exhibit space, classrooms and meeting space. Both facilities are up for naming rights with the right corporate or financial funding, according to Executive Director Alan Mothner.

“This is par for the course for corporate fundraising,” Mothner said. As examples, he cited the new SunTrust Park and Mercedes-Benz Stadium. In Sandy Springs’ new City Springs civic center, he noted, there is the Byers Theatre, named for a couple who made a $2.5 million donation that will also fund a new musical theater company.

“We’ve been in talks with lots of companies, foundations and individuals,” Mothner said of potential naming rights. “Of course, we don’t want to overpopulate our parks with signs.”

The Nature Center recently signed a 40-year lease with the city through the newly created Public Facilities Authority and in that lease the city gives the Nature Center the authority to name the buildings.

Now is the time to come up with a consistent approach to naming and sponsoring public facilities, Walker explained last month to the council. The policy as presented has naming criteria emphasizing “community values and character, local history, geography, environmental, civics and service to the Dunwoody community,” he said.

The proposed policy also states, “It is not necessary that every city park or recreation facility have a name. Further, such facilities should not be named to honor or recognize an individual or group unless the mayor and City Council determines that it is appropriate to honor or recognize a deserving or outstanding group or individual for their actions and/or service.”

Naming a park for someone who has made a significant contribution to the city would only be offered after the person has been deceased for at least two years. Councilmember Lynn Deutsch suggested five years, but the number of years was still up for discussion.
The procedure for naming a public facility includes submitting recommendations to the city manager who will then determine what names the mayor and council are to consider, according to the draft policy.

Public input will be allowed and the mayor and council, who have final approval, will confirm the names through a resolution.

Sponsorships were included in the proposed policy, but Deutsch recommended removing that category and making it into its own policy because naming rights are expected to be permanent while sponsorships are temporary.

“There should not be sponsorships of buildings,” she said.

“I think that in terms of perpetuity, that needs to be the presumption … so that our citizens aren’t for five years referring to Pam Tallmadge [natatorium] … and then in five years the Terry Nall natatorium,” she added, giving made-up examples using the names of fellow council members.

Councilmember Terry Nall suggested adding a clause where the council can accelerate the naming of a facility if, for example, a police officer was killed on duty. He also asked questions that are to be finalized on who would pay for the signage and its installation.

Nall also said he liked the idea of naming public places after geographical locations. Mayor Denis Shortal said he didn’t like that idea, however.

“We’ve got a lot of history in this city and I think we can dig into a history book and find some great things use as names,” he said.

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.