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Surf City Wants You to Charge It

Huntington Beach officials will allow use of the municipal nickname on a credit card. Profits will cover some city expenses.

June 06, 2003|Stanley Allison | Times Staff Writer

Huntington Beach expects to cash in on its "Surf City" nickname by lending use of the moniker to a credit card company in exchange for a piece of the retail action.

The City Council on Monday approved an agreement with First Bank, N.D., to issue "Huntington Beach, Surf City" cards, hoping to attract customers who want to show their city pride or coolness quotient. The city will receive 10.4 cents for every $100 charged on the card, with proceeds earmarked for cultural, recreational and library programs. The new cards will be available in August.

When the idea for the card was first proposed in 2002, the city projected earnings of up to $1.2 million a year -- if it was willing to share various costs of the program, including marketing. The city refused.

The city now anticipates receiving about $200,000 in sign-up fees and about $200,000 a year in revenue from the cards' use, said David Biggs, city economic development director.

A number of cities have their logos, names and city hall images on credit cards, but few have the cachet that Surf City offers -- with a possible surfing logo to compete against those featuring family pets, race cars and other images.

The program is similar to those offering "affinity" credit cards, which are offered by nonprofit groups and retailers to their members and customers. The city will promote the cards, probably through direct-mail advertising and possibly fliers in utility bills, Mayor Connie Boardman said.

The affinity cards have been around for about 15 years, said David Robertson, publisher of the Nilson Report, a credit card industry newsletter.

"Affinities can run the gamut from a hockey team to an alma mater to Mothers Against Drunk Driving," Robertson said.

Redondo Beach decided not to adopt an affinity card in 1995, for fear of pushing its residents to take on more credit when so many are already overloaded with debt.

"People are going to get credit cards no matter what," said Biggs, "and most people will substitute a Huntington Beach Surf City card for one they already have, because they will be making a conscious choice to support the city's programs."

The credit card program is not the city's first commercial foray. In the early '90s, Huntington Beach was the first city in Orange County to use sponsorship and advertising deals with companies to cover lifeguard and beach expenses. The city struck a deal with Chevrolet to provide pickup trucks for lifeguards and with Yamaha for wave runners, and received $300,000 a year from Coca-Cola as the city's official soft drink.

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