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In the wake of the Dairy Queen controversy, the Park Board considers more soft drink advertising to boost its budget

In its latest bid to boost revenue, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is eying a makeover of its beverage contract -- with ideas ranging from soft drink ads on ball field fences and hockey arena boards at the larger regional sports facilities to the less-likely possibilities of ads on canoes or park benches.

Initial discussions indicate commissioners will take a conservative approach to expanding the contract, now a one-year deal with Coca-Cola worth $82,750 in vending revenue and other support, a Park Board staff report said.

The Park Board hit strong public opposition earlier this year when it tried to contract with a Dairy Queen to operate the Lake Harriet and Calhoun concession stands. It catalyzed a citizen's group calling itself SCOOP -- Stop Commercialization Of Our Parks.

The Park Board, like other public bodies, has faced a tight financial situation. It is looking for new ways to generate money to pay for programs without raising taxes.

A new beverage contract could generate $225,000 annually -- $140,000 over current levels or a 170 percent increase, the staff report said. Don Sigglekow, assistant superintendent for development, called it a conservative estimate.

Siggelkow presented the commissioners with a long list of options to consider.

"Tier 1" ideas included advertising or marketing on mobile vending carts, ice arena boards, driving range dividers, outfield fences, scoreboards and the Park Board's website.

Tiers 2 and 3 had what would likely be more controversial proposals, allowing beverage sponsorships on youth sports uniforms, park vehicles, kiosks and benches, canoes, lockers and lifeguard boats.

When the Park Board discussed it, several Park commissioners advised a cautious approach.

"The parks are an oasis" from advertising, said Commissioner John Erwin. Marie Hauser said she didn't want to push sweet products on kids.

"If someone is going to give us a lot of money, we ought to look at it," said Park Board President Bob Fine.

Based on the reaction he received from commissioners, Siggelkow said signs in regional parks would be taboo.

The Park Board's Administration and Finance Committee is set to discuss the terms of a new Request for Proposals on the beverage contract Wednesday July 3.

The Park Board could increase its beverage revenue in two ways, Sigglekow said -- by increasing sales, adding more vending machines, or by providing a longer-term contract and more product exposure.

"We are not going to entertain anything that increases volume, except golf courses and concession stands," which are areas where the soft drink purchase is an adult-supervised decision, Siggelkow said.

The Park Board could get more revenue by lengthening the contract from one year to 10 years, a more attractive deal for Coke, Pepsi or 7-Up, who would not face the prospect of losing a bid each year, he said. The Park Board could also do a better job of assigning value to exposure.

"At the Lake Harriet refectory, there are two Coke vending machines by the bathrooms," Siggelkow said. "That's big. That's a billboard. We are getting relatively little value currently for existing allowances for signs."

The Park Board's volume of soft drink sales is small, he said, "but in terms of exposure, we are in the big leagues."

The Park Board hired Steve Hudson, a consultant with Public Enterprises Inc. to help redo the beverage contract. Hudson has worked with the Minneapolis Public Schools and the University of Minnesota on their beverage contracts, Siggelkow said.

The contract would pay Hudson up to $50,000 if the Park Board pursues a new contract and Hudson negotiates it, Siggelkow said.

The beverage contract Request for Proposals could go to the full board by mid-July, Siggelkow said. Allowing for time for companies to submit proposals and for the staff to review them and make recommendations, the Park Board could vote on a new contract in November, he said.