CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The Charleston Civic Center's decision to accept sponsorship money and place coal industry images on its new basketball playing surface is raising eyebrows.
The hardwood floor paid for by the West Virginia Coal Association debuted at Tuesday's West Virginia University-Morehead State game.
A black perimeter and large orange outline of the state with the silhouettes of three coal miners dominates half-court. There are also logos for the association's "Friends of Coal" group on either side.
The industry-sponsored floor has angered an environmentalist.
"How would people feel if the Democratic Party painted Democratic logos all over the court and Republicans had to sit there and look at that?" said Denise Giardina, a Charleston author and opponent of mountaintop removal mining.
Giardina said sporting events - including the high school basketball tournaments hosted at the Civic Center - shouldn't be turned into political events.
The Civic Center is a government building owned by the City of Charleston.
Laura Phillips, president of the Phillips Group, a Charleston-based advertising agency, said she wasn't sure if the Civic Center sought public bids for the sponsorship rights.
"I'm keenly aware of the benefit the West Virginia Coal Association will derive by having its Friends of Coal logo emblazoned on the basketball court," she wrote in an email to Civic Center General Manager John Robertson.
"I wasn't aware of a public notice by the Civic Center or the City of Charleston about the need for a new basketball court floor and the willingness of the Civic Center and City to enter into a partnership with an organization of corporations to help pay for the floor."
So far, the Civic Center and the Coal Association have declined to make public the details of the deal, though it guarantees the Coal Association gets to brand the floor for the next decade. Robertson has previously said the Coal Association provides the Civic Center about $125,000 in annual business and that the court cost $82,000.
Coal Association President Bill Raney said the association had promised to maintain the floor but declined to talk about any additional figures and referred those questions to Robertson.
Robertson was out of the office Tuesday and did not respond to an email or a voicemail left on his cellphone.
Phillips said $82,000 for a court emblazoned with the Coal Association's logo for 10 years was a "heck of a deal."
"When WVU plays Marshall, you can pay $2,500 or $3,000 for a spot in the game," she said in a telephone interview, referring to TV spots that air during the game. "To have the logo on the floor, that's a coup."
Phillips said if the city had sought bids, it might have received more money.