By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Tempers flared today in a City Council committee hearing as lawmakers okayed the installation of a huge “wall wrap” electronic billboard for the Electric Factory building, at 7th and Callowhill Streets.
The owner of the Electric Factory building, Mike Berman, wants permission to wrap the building, which is visible from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, in an electronic sign. An earlier attempt by his firm was ultimately vetoed by the mayor.
But this time Berman’s firm promises to donate 20 percent of net revenues from the wall wrap to local school associations. Speaking to Council’s Rules Committee, Berman estimated that would total about $500,000 per year.
Several of the potential beneficiaries of this deal spoke at the hearing, including Jenni Desnouee (right), co-president of the Kearny Elementary Home and School Association, in Fairmount.
“The positive impacts of a fully supported, quality public school in the neighborhood far outweigh any negative impact that the sign might have,” she told the councilmembers on the committee.
But others spoke forcefully in opposition to the wall wrap.
Rosanne Loesch of the Society Hill Civic Association said the building owner, having failed to get approval before, was now trying to buy out opponents.
“Now he’s using the promise of money for schools as a bribe to get approval,” Loesch testified.
But describing the deal as a bribe infuriated several committee members, including Councilman Bill Greenlee.
“To call a community benefits agreement with some parents who are trying get some things for their school a bribe is an unfortunate, very inaccurate choice of words,” Greenlee said.
And Councilman Jim Kenney exchanged heated words with Loesch over her claim that no other city has allowed such electronic signage.
(Loesch:) “There are some smart cities out there…”
(Kenney:) “Yeah, New York City…”
(Loesch:) “Like Houston…”
(Kenney:) “Houston? Houston has no zoning code…”
(Loesch:) “Houston has banned…
(Kenney:) “They have no zoning code! You can build a high rise next to a church…”
(Loesch:) “They have banned billboards, and the city has been the better for it.”
The Nutter administration opposes the signage bill as well. Aides to the mayor say a billboard would be inappropriate at that location, and that its placement could jeopardize millions of dollars in federal highway funding.
Nonetheless, the committee approved the measure and sent it to the full Council for a vote.