The good news is that the old Transbay Terminal is being brought back to life as an ultramodern facility with sustainable, green-energy innovations and exciting geometric architecture. The bad news is that it will be called the ‘Salesforce Transit Center,’ raising troubling questions about the degree to which public spaces in San Francisco can now be named after for-profit corporations and used as promotional tools.
The Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) voted at their meeting last week to approve the naming rights deal, according to the San Francisco Business Times. Salesforce will pay $110 million to put their name and logo all over the new transit center being built at Folsom Street and Main Street.
Even with that $110 million commitment, the transit authority does not sound enthusiastic about the arrangement. “Unfortunately, we are in a situation where we have to rely on naming rights,” TJPA board member and SFMTA director Ed Reiskin told the Chronicle. “I find it distasteful, philosophically, but I get it, logically — every dollar we get privately helps us fulfill our public mission.”
But at $110 million for a 25-year naming rights sponsorship, Salesforce seems to be getting off pretty cheaply here. This deal brings the transit authority and average of about $4.4 million over its lifespan. Meanwhile, Chase Bank is paying $10 million a year for naming rights to the Golden State Warriors. Though the center is getting a roughly $9 million up-front payment to help complete construction, a $4.4 annual average is a pretty paltry amount for Salesforce to get their name announced on transit stops for BART, Caltrain, Amtrak, and eight other transit services.
And while corporate naming rights deals are now standard practice for ballparks and arenas (AT&T Park, Levi’s Stadium, Oracle Arena), the Transbay Transit Center is a publicly owned entity paid for with public funding. It’s one thing when a company names its building after itself, like the Salesforce Tower, the Transamerica Pyramid, or the PG&E Building. It’s a whole other thing if the names of BART stations, Muni stops, and Caltrain stations can be bought up by corporations.
Anyone who remembers the old Transbay Terminal knows that it was quite possibly the most most disgusting facility in all San Francisco, a gritty and outdated dump that almost never failed to make you throw up in your mouth a little bit. The new transit center will be a vanguard triumph that bills itself as “the Grand Central Station of the West.”
But with the name ‘Salesforce Transit Center,’ it still might manage to make you sick.