N.H. looks to sell naming rights for highway rest areas

Last modified: Friday, October 25, 2013
In a couple of years, the state rest area on Route 4 in Epsom could reopen – with McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts or another corporate sponsor picking up the tab.

The state government is preparing to start a program allowing companies to buy naming rights to about a dozen “Welcome and Information Centers” across New Hampshire. Four of the highway rest areas are closed, three due to budget cuts and one because of utility problems.

“It’s a first step. We’re not sure yet how much money it will bring in,” said House Minority Leader Gene Chandler, a Bartlett Republican who helped craft legislation this year to start the program. “But this is a bad situation in New Hampshire, where we have rest areas (and) some are closed and some are open only on a limited basis and some of them have fallen into a state of disrepair.”

Chandler sits on the Long Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee, which voted unanimously yesterday to approve the bidding process that will find a company to develop and run the sponsorship program.

The project will go out to bid in January and a three-year contract should be finalized by mid-2014. Similar programs are already operating in 14 other states, according to the Department of Transportation.

Revenue from the sponsorships would go to the DOT, which owns the rest areas, and the program would be overseen by the Department of Resources and Economic Development, which operates them.

“Based upon discussions with vendors in other states, we believe this can generate revenue for New Hampshire, but we do not know how much,” wrote DOT spokesman Bill Boynton in an email.

The program won’t include the two rest areas on Interstate 93 at Exit 11 in Hooksett, where a $32 million redevelopment and expansion project is already planned. Those new rest areas, which will be operated by a partnership of the Ashland-based Common Man family of restaurants and Meredith’s The Inns & Spa at Mill Falls, are scheduled to open in April 2015.

The sponsorship program will include all other state welcome centers, including the rest areas in Antrim, Epsom and Rumney that closed in 2011 due to budget cuts, and a rest area in Shelburne that Boynton said is closed due to issues with utilities.

Under the request for proposals approved yesterday, the company hired to run the program will have to devise a “comprehensive, high quality sponsorship program with a significant marketing presence,” with “the primary goal of the program” being “to generate the highest level of annual recurring revenue.”

Not allowed: advertising that denigrates groups based on gender, race or other factors; any advertising for “products or services with sexual overtones” or that relate to abortion or euthanasia; advertising for any political candidate; or advertising promoting the use of alcohol, tobacco or guns.

The request for bids is scheduled to go out Jan. 20, with bids due Feb. 24. A screening committee will review the proposals and choose a winner, with the contract then approved by Gov. Maggie Hassan and the Executive Council and taking effect July 1.

The revenue generated by the program won’t be enough to solve all the problems at state rest areas, but at least it would be a start, Chandler said.

“The idea is to keep them open,” he said.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)