Perez Floats Proposal For 4 to 6 Billboards To Fund Bus Shelters
March 6, 2007
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
They are meant to send a message - buy a lottery ticket, come to the home show, eat at a restaurant, visit a sex shop. Mayor Eddie A. Perez is wondering whether there might be room to squeeze another half-dozen billboards between the city and a highway that runs through it.
But as Perez ponders a plan to put a handful of billboards on city land along I-91 and use the revenue to build bus shelters, some wonder whether the collective message that the billboards send is worth it.
"We're trying to beautify the city, and I don't necessarily think that billboards add to that beautification process," said Bert Kaplowitz, chairman of the new Hartford Business Improvement District and general manager of Northland Investment Corp., downtown's largest landowner. "We're all in favor of bus shelters, and we'd love to work with the mayor's office to see if there's another way besides billboards to fund them."
Perez is floating a plan this month to area neighborhood organizations to gauge support for the idea, and his staff says community response will help him decide his course.
"The mayor really would like some public input on this," said Matt Hennessy, the mayor's chief of staff. "If people think it's a good idea, if the community buys into it, this may be something that's viable."
Details of the plan are still in flux and the city would not provide revenue estimates, but officials said Monday that it is considering hiring a private contractor to build and maintain the billboards and the bus shelters. The city is considering four to six signs at two locations - land between I-91 and the landfill just north of downtown, and land near the Wethersfield line south of downtown.
The city would receive an upfront payment as well as an annual fee. Also, to avoid billboards that boast sex shops and adult cabarets that have drawn recent criticism, the city would have a right to regulate the content of the billboards.
"My understanding is that, because these billboards will be on city-owned property, we can put controls on the content of the advertising," said Lee Erdmann, the city's chief operating officer. "I think the intent is for these billboards to be in good taste."
The commissioners of the city's recently formed downtown business improvement district, concerned with both the number of billboards and their content, has already sent a letter to Perez saying that "Hartford currently has far too many billboards, many with racy advertisements for adult establishments," and that "any expansion of billboard sites would be a major step backward for the city in improving its image."
It also said that "we are deeply concerned that the revenue generated by new billboards will not be worth the significant harm that additional advertisements of this nature will cause the city."
Council President John Bazzano is interested in the idea of making money for the city, but he's also concerned about the way the city looks.
"I don't want the city of Hartford to look like Las Vegas, to be honest with you," Bazzano said. "I welcome the additional revenue, but at what expense?"
Bazzano said the trick will be in controlling the location, the size and the content of the billboards. "If we can get a handle on that and at the same time generate some income for the city, then it's a win-win," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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