Because of the wide variety of venues involved, Sarasota County commissioners are reluctant to set specific rules regarding signs reflecting sponsorship or advertising in county parks.
Instead, the commissioners last week told Carolyn Brown, general manager of the Parks and Recreation Department, to let the members of Friends of Sarasota County Parks Inc. review requests under the guidelines her department already has established.
“I think the general wish is not to turn our parks into a vehicle for small billboards,” Chairwoman Nora Patterson said. “But there’s a long way between saying, ‘Sponsorship courtesy of’ … and advertising specific services.”
During a presentation to commissioners Sept. 27, Brown noted the board had asked the parks staff in May to schedule a discussion about signage. The request stemmed from complaints about signs at county dog parks. Residents had called the signs advertising, she said, so the signs were removed.
In a memo to the County Commission, Brown noted that a 17th Street dog park sign “was posted by a vendor who had donated funds for an annual sponsorship through the Friends of Sarasota County Parks … which raises funds and donations” for the parks pursuant to a memorandum of agreement with the county that the commission had approved July 28, 2010.
Brown’s memo said Parks and Recreation Department staff outlined principles for future signage and was working with representatives of the Friends group to develop guidelines for acknowledging donations and sponsorships as well as direction for memorial gifts and memorials. Those guidelines would serve as an extension of the FOSCP Sarasota County Parks Forever Green program, created to provide a fundraising opportunity to enhance the county’s ability to maintain, improve and expand its facilities.
The sign situation had been discussed most recently during the Sept. 8 Parks Advisory and Recreation Council meeting. The council members indicated it would have tolerance for such signage utilized in more developed park areas such as community centers and athletic fields, instead of natural areas and hiking trails.
Commissioner Jon Thaxton told Brown he wanted signs allowed only in developed areas of parks.
Brown said the Friends organization and her staff would focus on signage in those developed areas, such as playgrounds and ball fields, and by picnic tables.
Commissioner Christine Robinson said she was particularly concerned about the number of plaques at the Venetian Waterway Park along the Intracoastal Waterway in Venice.
“There is room for recognition for folks who contribute … but it’s hard to set something for each level of parks, because they’re all so different,” she said. “I don’t even know where to start.”
Brown said her staff had been discussing that for weeks.
“Every single park almost stands uniquely on its own,” Brown said. “Probably our recommendation would be to take it on a case-by-case basis and provide the Friends with a wish list (of amenities that would be acceptable at certain parks).”
For example, she said, a sign recognizing sponsorship of the pavilion at Rothenbach Park on Bee Ridge Road would be appropriate.
Furthermore, commissioners want a clear delineation between advertisements and recognition.
“Some of the intent is advertising,” Patterson said. “Some of the intent is name recognition, but there’s a difference between that (and advertising).”
Guidelines for future signs
Carolyn Brown, general manager of Sarasota County Parks and Recreation, and her staff have put together the following guidelines for future signage in county facilities:
• Signage will be appropriate, tasteful and consistent.
• A timeframe shall be established for different forms of signage.
• The signage location and design shall not interfere with visitors’ experience, use or routine park operations.
• Signage will be proportional to the scale and shall not compromise the visual integrity of the park or facility.
• There will not be excessive numbers of such signs in any one park or area.
• Signage would be limited to areas of a park recognized as “built” environments.
• Donor/sponsor signage would not contain advertising.
• Corporate donations will be encouraged but may not suggest the endorsement of Sarasota County.
• The use of corporate names or logos in signage may be permitted, but not advertising slogans.
• Sponsorships which shall not be considered are those that promote drugs, alcohol or tobacco, or that violate the law.