September 18, 2013

Greenville's Bi-Lo center gets a new name

The BI-LO Center has a new name for the first time since it opened in 1998 — the Bon Secours Wellness Arena.

The BI-LO Center has a new name for the first time since it opened in 1998 — the Bon Secours Wellness Arena.

The special board that controls the 15,000-seat sports and entertainment arena on Wednesday approved a new naming-rights deal with Bon Secours St. Francis Health System.

Bon Secours, which operates two local hospitals, agreed to pay $4.5 million over 10 years for the naming rights, according to its contract with the Greenville Arena District, a public body that owns and operates the arena in downtown Greenville.

The change is effective Oct. 1 but switching signs will likely take weeks, said Roger Newton, the arena’s general manager.

Bon Secours spokeswoman Sharon Johnson said the Catholic Christian hospital system is governed by the ethics and mission of the Catholic Sisters of Bon Secours and that means health and wellness should be part of all that it does.

“The sisters wanted ‘wellness’ in the name as a reminder of why our name is on the building,” Johnson said.

The BI-LO grocery chain had a right of first refusal on the naming rights but declined to exercise it, arena officials said.

BI-LO paid $3 million to own the naming rights for 15 years in a deal struck before it merged with the Winn-Dixie grocery chain and moved its headquarters from Mauldin to Jacksonville, Fla.

The name change coincides with a $14.6 million renovation of the arena that Newton said will take place over three years and include a new, high-definition scoreboard for the facility, home to the Greenville Road Warriors minor league hockey team.

Newton said the cash infusion from Bon Secours will allow the arena to set aside $500,000 a year for future capital improvements on top of its regular operating and debt-service costs.

Greenville Health System, Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System and the Bojangles restaurant chain were among the other companies and organizations that expressed an interest in the naming rights, said Jeff Gilstrap, chairman of the arena district’s board.

Gilstrap said the $4.5 million price paid by Bon Secours was in the middle of a target range determined by a national consultant hired by the arena district.

Mark Nantz, Bon Secours’ chief executive in Greenville, said the health care system was glad to support the local community through its marketing budget “rather than simply trying to advertise our way to a better bottom line.”

He said Bon Secours would man interactive displays during events at the arena to encourage healthy lifestyles.

Under the contract terms, Bon Secours may object to any event at the arena it deems “offensive” or “scandalous.”

The contract allows Bon Secours to terminate the naming-rights agreement if it’s not able to reach an understanding over the offending event during negotiations with arena officials.

Johnson said Bon Secours has no objection to any event that has taken place at the arena for the past five years. Bon Secours realizes the arena is owned by the public and strongly believes in the right to free speech, she said.

Bon Secours also gets the use of a luxury suite and 20 club seats under the contract terms, and it may use the arena for free when no events are scheduled.

For BI-LO, the name change means a lowering of its public profile in the community where it was founded in 1961. Brian Wright, a BI-LO spokesman in Jacksonville, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Money for the arena’s renovation comes mostly from extra accommodations tax revenue that resulted from a refinancing of the arena’s debt with the assistance of the Greenville city and county governments, officials said.

Bob Taylor, County Council chairman, said during an official announcement of the name change that the arena’s success shows what the city and county governments can do when they work together.

Greenville Mayor Knox White called the naming-rights deal a “surprising” and “bold” move on the part of Bon Secours.

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