The City Council today approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to allow a conglomerate to build nearly three dozen digital billboards along city expressways in exchange for a lease of at least 20 years.
The deal with Interstate-JCDecaux passed 43-6. It had seemed destined to pass since Emanuel relies on $15 million from the deal to balance his 2013 budget.
The 20-year contract guarantees the city at least $155 million, plus a share of advertising revenue, including the $15 million to balance next year's budget. In return, Interstate-JCDecaux will install 34 billboards up to 100 feet tall on city property next to expressways.
Endorsing the plan, Ald. Daniel Solis, 25th, said it's better to put up digital signs than to raise taxes. He also pointed out the city will be able to use the signs to send out emergency messages and publicize its own programs.
"This equates to at least one city message for every seven ads" that scroll through the digital boards, Solis said.
But Ald. Robert Fioretti, 2nd, said the deal fails both on economic and aesthetic terms.
The billboards will mar the city's skyline and the revenues are not enough to justify such a long lease, Fioretti said. "The public space belongs to the public, not advertisers," Fioretti said.
Speaking to aldermen after the vote, Emanuel stabbed his finger into his desk as he made the case that the money raised through the deal is well worth the relatively small number of signs.
He also told aldermen who don't like the plan to devise a different way to raise $15 million next year. "Bring it up, I haven't seen it," he said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun