Selling Metro station’s name? Not so fast, Fairfax County says

Fairfax County, Virginia, supervisors are slamming Metro’s plans to unilaterally sell the naming rights to, and thereby renaming, the future Innovation Center station on the Silver Line.

The county was caught off guard Monday when the Metro Board announced plans to waive existing naming rules so that Metro staff can finalize a naming rights deal with a “Fortune Global 500 company.”

According to Metro documents, a company wants to put its name on the station in conjunction with a new headquarters in that area.

“I heard reports on WTOP (Monday) about this, which was a big surprise. First time I had heard that there was any consideration for changing the name. That’s just not OK,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova said.

The Silver Line station names were selected years ago after a lengthy back and forth between Fairfax County and Metro, which also included input from the public and developers building around the stations.

“Changing this name without coordination with the local jurisdiction is not acceptable because there was a long and deliberate selection process to approve the current name, which included considerable public input,” Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said.

Foust represents the area around the station, which sits in the middle of the Dulles Toll Road just east of Virginia Route 28. It is not far from the Loudoun County line.

Metro did not want to disclose the name of the company that has expressed interest in paying for the station’s naming rights, given ongoing negotiations for station naming rights and the company’s continuing work to formally finalize the property deal needed to locate its headquarters near the station.

“This is a bad idea, but … the way it is being handled by WMATA is just, you know, extremely disappointing. I didn’t catch WTOP, I should have,” Foust said.

He learned of the Metro Board’s planned action early Tuesday morning, and he said county transportation staff were not notified either.

Metro hopes station naming rights deals could help offset losses from ridership declines to help keep the budget in line without more significant fare increases.

One concern in the past, however, has been about free speech protections that could force Metro to allow station names that may not be palatable to some people.

Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday night to send a letter to Metro, complaining about the lack of communication and the apparent plans to waive current station naming policies.

“The reason the criteria was set up in the first place was to prevent something like this from happening,” Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay said.

McKay is chairman-elect of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. He is asking the Metro board not to act Thursday to authorize negotiation of a naming rights deal, and to wait on any decisions until there have been discussions between Metro and Fairfax County.

“Innovation Center is a perfect name for this. There’s a lot of innovation happening around this Metro station. And to limit that to the name of one person or one entity who can afford to pay to play would be a wrong decision, I think, for Metro, and would confuse a lot of people,” McKay said.

Even supervisors who potentially support selling naming rights in theory agreed that nothing should be done without consulting local leaders who represent the station’s areas.

When the Silver Line’s second phase opens to Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County, likely next year, the Innovation Center station — whatever name it ends up with — will be one stop east of the Dulles station and one stop west of the Herndon stop.

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