Register parent, Anaheim drop talks over hub-naming rights

ANAHEIM – Negotiations have collapsed on a deal that would have allowed Freedom Communications, parent company of the Orange County Register, to help Anaheim find a corporate sponsor that would pay to put its name on a transportation hub under construction near Angel Stadium.

As a result, city officials this week put out a call for proposals from consultants interested in seeking out a sponsor for the new Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center, also known as ARTIC, said Natalie Meeks, Anaheim’s public works director. A deal could go before the City Council as soon as January.

An artist's rendering of the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center, or ARTIC, shows how the 67,000-square-foot facility will change the scenery near the Honda Center and Angel Stadium in Anaheim.

This summer, Anaheim and Freedom Communications began negotiating toward a deal that would have allowed Freedom to exclusively solicit companies for the naming rights on ARTIC.

“It didn’t look like we were going to put something together that would work well for the city and for Freedom, so discussions were put on hold,” said Aaron Kushner, CEO of Freedom Communications and the Register’s publisher.

“There was no formal process to begin with, and no hard dates attached to this,” Kushner said. “I think both sides decided that it wasn’t worth continuing the conversation.”

The negotiations were heavily criticized by government and journalism watchdog groups that raised questions over whether the Register’s coverage of Anaheim and ARTIC would be fair and balanced.

Kushner has said news coverage would never be influenced by any deal.

This year, Freedom Communications launched a venture that focuses on selling corporate sponsorships to companies and organizations. Kushner declined to comment on whether he planned to reapply to become ARTIC’s naming-rights broker.

Construction began in September 2012 on ARTIC, a 67,000-square-foot terminal that will provide access to Amtrak, Metrolink, buses and taxis. The $184.2 million project is primarily funded by Orange County's half-percent sales tax, approved by voters for such transportation improvements, and bolstered by tens of millions of dollars in state and federal grants. ARTIC is expected to open in about a year.

Any revenue generated from a naming-rights deal – along with advertising opportunities and retail inside the terminal – would go toward operations and maintenance costs after the transportation station opens, Meeks said. Meeks said it was unclear how much any such deal could be worth.

“Naming sponsorships for transportation facilities is relatively new, and we’re still determining the market value for that,” Meeks said.