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Phillips 66 Soccer Park opens debate over naming rights in Whatcom County

Daniel Anderson mows the grass at the Northwest Soccer Park north of Bellingham Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in preparation for the beginning of the spring soccer season. The name of the park is being changed to Phillips 66 Soccer Park after a major donation from the Whatcom County refinery.
Daniel Anderson mows the grass at the Northwest Soccer Park north of Bellingham Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in preparation for the beginning of the spring soccer season. The name of the park is being changed to Phillips 66 Soccer Park after a major donation from the Whatcom County refinery. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

In exchange for a $700,000 donation, Phillips 66 Ferndale Refinery has the rights to rename the Northwest Soccer Park for 20 years.

The donation, along with $2 million from Washington state, will be used to help install two artificial turf fields to replace a grass section of the park, add lights and put up a new scoreboard. The park is near the intersection of Northwest Drive and Smith Road.

In early February, Whatcom County Council extended its lease with Whatcom Sports and Recreation for another 25 years, and granted the nonprofit group the naming rights for the park to facilitate the donation.

In turn, the nonprofit signed those rights over to the Ferndale refinery so the facility could be renamed Phillips 66 Soccer Park.

While County Council members said they did not want to diminish the generosity of the donation, they deliberated handed the naming rights to a private entity without a countywide policy.

Awarding the naming rights for a public facility is new for Whatcom County Parks and Recreation, which has no official policy for renaming facilities and doesn’t plan to draft one with any urgency.

“It’s not high on our list,” explained Michael McFarlane, director of county parks and recreation. “We typically don’t have many opportunities for naming in the county park system.”

I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I want to know what this means for the long-term future of having public facilities named after private corporations.

Ken Mann, Whatcom County Council member

When the council’s finance committee first heard a presentation on the project late in January, council member Ken Mann said he wanted more context on corporate naming rights.

“Having naming rights on public land doesn’t feel totally right to me,” Mann said during the council’s Jan. 26 finance meeting. “This is obviously an incredibly generous and wonderful offer on the part of the corporation, and I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I want to know what this means for the long-term future of having public facilities named after private corporations.”

Council member Barbara Brenner, on the other hand, said she thought it was a great idea.

“I think we should do more of this,” Brenner said. “It’s still county property. We’re not giving it away.”

The members waited to vote on the matter until Feb. 9, by which point Mann said he supported the measure.

“I think it’s important to have processes in place for this, and I think we’re going to work on that,” Mann said. “This donation is incredibly generous and I’m happy to vote yes on this.”

Council members Rud Browne and Satpal Sidhu echoed support for creating an official county policy, and Brenner said she wanted the county to encourage donors to help maintain all kinds of parks and recreation.

Field upgrade

The artificial turf fields were set to be installed by mid-April, but it is looking like it will be at least early summer before their completion due to planning obstacles, said Lance Calloway, executive director of the soccer park.

The soccer park is Whatcom County property but is leased to Whatcom Sports and Recreation, which operates and maintains the facilities without taxpayer funding.

“It’s a phenomenal public-private partnership all the way around,” Calloway said. “I’m excited because this is something that can make an impact for our community for years to come.”

A celebration will be planned once the fields are closer to completion.

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil

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