Tampa council to vote on digital billboard rules
May 6, 2010
After months of negotiations, the city council is expected to vote today on a proposed ordinance that would clear the way for digital billboards throughout the city.
Clear Channel Outdoors and CBS Outdoors seek council approval to begin installing digital billboards, which can exhibit multiple, rotating advertisements on one screen.
To do that, council members need to amend the city's sign code to spell out how many signs will be allowed, how bright they should be and where they can be installed.
Under the proposed ordinance, the number of digital billboards would be limited to 12 citywide, six for each of the two companies, they would have to be at least 2,500 feet apart, and would be largely restricted to interstate highways and commercial areas.
If the companies want to add more displays, they would have to wait at least two years.
The proposed rules would also restrict the rate at which ads on digital displays change to every 10 seconds for federal highways and 15 seconds for state and local roadways.
Previous proposals would have capped the number of electronic displays at 32 citywide and allowed them much closer to residential areas, but the council â?? and negotiations between Clear Channel and neighborhood groups â?? scaled back those provisions.
Tom O'Neill, regional vice president of Clear Channel Outdoors, said while the company wants more than six digital billboards, it is willing to accept the city's current proposal.
"During the first two years of operation, our digital billboards will demonstrate their unobtrusive nature and showcase their tremendous benefits to the city," he said.
Councilman John Dingfelder calls the current proposal a "compromise" and said the new rules would keep digital billboards "far away" from the city's residential neighborhoods.
"If I truly had a choice, I would have voted against the ordinance and sought to enforce a continued ban on digital billboards in the city," Dingfelder said. "However, faced with the prospect of continued expensive litigation, I suggested a compromise for a total of 12."
Last year, the city settled a decade of litigation with Clear Channel and CBS requiring them to take down regular billboards in "scenic view" areas across the city. In exchange, the companies will be allowed to replace them with digital billboards in other areas.
Combined, CBS and Clear Channel have about 1,300 regular billboards in the city.
The settlements include a provision allowing the companies to opt out of them if the city council doesn't approve a digital billboard ordinance within six months, or this month.
If the proposed ordinance doesn't pass, it could send the issue back to court.
In addition to talks with the city, Clear Channel executives have been negotiating with neighborhood groups in an effort to win over residents skeptical of digital billboards.
Those negotiations yielded results, with a coalition of neighborhood groups saying last month that they won't oppose the digital billboard ordinance if it includes concessions offered by the company, such as keeping the displays away from residential areas.
Clear Channel has also made political contributions to city council members, including Dingfelder, who received a $500 donation from the advertising giant last month toward his campaign for a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission in November.
Ahead of the 2007 city elections, Dingfelder and several other council members â?? including Caetano, Scott, Miller and Charlie Miranda â?? received campaign contributions from Clear Channel Outdoors ranging from $65 to $500, the maximum by law.
Clear Channel has defended the political contributions and Dingfelder and other council member deny that their votes have been influenced by the corporate donations.
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