Thursday, October 22, 2009

Owning Name Rights to Landmark Public Property. The City Behaves Inconsistently: Tavern on the Green vs. Nets Arena to Be Named Barclays

Crain's just reported that “The city sued the operators of Tavern on the Green Wednesday in U.S. bankruptcy court in an effort to regain control over the name of the famed eatery.” (See: City sues Tavern on the Green operators over name By Lisa Fickenscher, October 21, 2009.)

The restaurant famous for its history and location in Central Park has been operating since 1934 when Robert Moses, perhaps somewhat spitefully, built it to replace another eatery in the park that was one of Mayor Jimmy Walker’s favorite haunts. (Read Robert Caro’s The Power Broker.)

In suing the LeRoy family, the restaurant’s operator that has declared bankruptcy, the city is asserting itself with proprietary vigilance, claiming for itself the precious right to own and control the name of valuable public property, made even more valuable because that property is inherently a landmark. The city is not going to let a private entrepreneur just walk away with the rights to the landmark’s name while its back was turned.

Not so when it comes to Bruce Ratner and the proposed Atlantic Yards Nets arena. In that case the city has been content to see Ratner seize even more valuable rights to control the name of landmark public property with no recompense to the city at all. And to banish all doubt that the city is willing to let Ratner acquire the name rights to public property for virtually nothing irrespective of the actual value of those rights, the MTA (with board members appointed by Mayor Bloomberg) is additionally giving Ratner the right to name two New York City subways stations at only a token charge. (See: Sunday, June 28, 2009, Naming a Problem: The MTA Gives Ratner the Right to Name Brooklyn Subway Stations “Barclays”.) Ratner’s rights will even supersede the need for good city subway map design.

On a present value basis the value of all the name rights the city and MTA (and Empire State Development Corporation) are letting Ratner walk away with are worth about $375 million. According to the city’s complaint against the LeRoy family, the trademark for the Tavern on the Green name (with an “estimated value of $19 million”) was “‘obtained fraudulently and without the city’s `knowledge or permission’ in 1981.”

Without the city’s “knowledge or permission”? Well maybe the best way to rob the city blind is to do it right in front of the city’s face the way Ratner did.

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