By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — With supporters cheering and opponents jeering, Philadelphia City Council today gave final approval to the installation of two large, 3-D electronic displays in center city.
City Council overwhelming approved the installation of two electronic advertising structures, dubbed “Urban Experiential Displays,” which are expected to range in height from 30 to 50 feet.
One would appear at the North Broad Street entrance to the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the other across 12th Street from the Reading Terminal Market.
Before the vote, opponents voiced their displeasure, among them Kiki Bolender of the Design Advocacy Group:
“We’re not talking kiosks. We’re talking about the house next door lit up like a billboard on I-95,” she said. “And that’s just the display. There appears to be no limits on the size of the structure.”
The measure was pushed by the councilman representing those two locations, Mark Squilla of the 1st District. He argued that those who live or work closest to the locations support the plan.
“This vote is very easy for me. Because I know that the people we dealt with — the people most impacted by where these signs are — are the people who support it. The city needs to grow (and) to look at different ways to be public-private partners, to grow our city and make our city better,” Squilla said.
But Jeff Branff, president of the Center City Residents’ Association, said his group opposes the 3D billboards, and he urged other lawmakers to ignore Squilla’s wishes.
“Don’t just yield to Councilman Squilla,” Branff urged them. “Think for yourself. Think about the benefit for the city, and who is really going to benefit from this bill.”
The true beneficiary, Branff said, is the billboard company, Catalyst Outdoor Advertising.
“Catalyst Outdoor is going to make a ton of money on this. The city gets virtually nothing,” Branff said.
City Council has a long tradition, dubbed ‘councilmanic prerogative,’ of approving site-specific legislation if its is supported by the district councilperson who represents that site. And this vote appeared to bear that out, with veto-proof majorities on both related zoning and streets measures.
Officials with Catalyst Outdoor have said that 70 percent of the content displayed would be ads and the rest would be public service announcements and other material, including promotions for local nonprofit groups.
The Convention Center and the Reading Terminal Market also stand to receive a portion of the ad revenue, and representatives of both sites spoke in support of the plan before today’s vote.
The Nutter administration has voiced concerns about the bill, including Squilla’s decision to remove language that would have given the City Planning Commission oversight into the installations.