Panel rejects beer name for Raleigh venue

Commission tells Raleigh no

Staff WriterJune 18, 2010 

— Raleigh's new outdoor amphitheater won't be wearing the Bud Light logo.

On Thursday, the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission rejected a requested exemption from state law that would have allowed Raleigh officials to name the city's 5,000-seat concert venue the Bud Light Amphitheater, a proposal that would have brought the city $1.5 million over five years.

Raleigh and Harris Wholesale Inc., a local Anheuser Busch distributor, drafted the proposal. The $300,000 a year Raleigh would have received in exchange for the naming rights would have helped offset the cost of running the $2.5 million venue, which opened June 4.

But state laws prevent public venues from being named after alcoholic beverages and brands.

Both ABC commissioners present at the hearing refused to give exemption from the law Thursday morning after hearing comments from students, residents and leaders of nonprofit groups, all of whom opposed the exemption.

"The dynamics of opening this kind of competition in the advertising field would be difficult to contain if we set this precedent," said Jon Williams, the commission's chairman.

Williams said the commission also considered public comments submitted through its website and provided bycity officials.

Retired Superior Court Judge Ronald Bogle urged the commission to deny the exemption on the grounds that it would set a bad precedent statewide. He said there is convincing research that shows alcohol advertising could encourage teens to drink.

Students from Enloe and Millbrook high schools said the proposed name could have a negative influence on children their age. Others argued it isn't fair to use taxpayer money to build a facility that would alienate religious and family-friendly groups.

"If you decide to grant this waiver to the city of Raleigh, your decision will, in effect, abandon once and for all this sound and responsible public policy in favor of the alcohol industry," said Bogle, who spoke on behalf of the Coalition for Alcohol and Drug Free Teenagers of Chapel Hill.

Raleigh City Council members said the city would pursue other naming sponsors and ways to raise money, and City Manager Russell Allen said the city would revisit potential corporate sponsors that previously expressed interest.

The city's budget projects the amphitheater operations would run about a $400,000 cash surplus with a significant sponsorship such as the Bud Light proposal, and $100,000 to $200,000 without a sponsor. Allen said the amphitheater going without sponsorship is unlikely.

The council voted in favor of a proposal to name the amphitheater after Bud Light in exchange for money in a closed session at its May 4 council meeting, a move some said was a violation of state open meetings laws.

Members of the council's Substance Abuse Advisory Commission wrote a letter to the council opposing the idea, saying it would send the wrong message to families, teenagers and children who might take it as a city endorsement of drinking.

At-large council member Mary-Ann Baldwin said the city will explore other ways to raise money, since naming rights sponsors are hard to come by in the current economic climate.

"I'm disappointed in the sense that we did lose a substantial amount of revenue and it's a tight budget year," she said. "But if we can come up with other types of opportunities - sponsors, naming different series - I think we need to explore that. Maybe this will spur some interest."

ray.martin@newsobserver.com or 919-836-4952

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