Digital billboards closer to reality in Tampa

05/06/10 Seán Kinane
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Digital billboards are one step closer to reality in Tampa. This morning, City Council passed a digital-billboard ordinance on first reading. Only two members voted against it, including Mary Mulhern, who wants the city to wait until after a safety study is released.

This is much better than what it could have been, but it still — I don't think, there's no public benefit from this decision today. I don't think there's any urgency about us doing it, and the least we could do is wait until the studies come in, which, you know, we don't know when they're going to come in, but the last we heard was sometime this summer. So just think; you could have put this off, and you wouldn't — you know, put it off long enough, you wouldn't even have to vote on it.

If the ordinance is passed on second reading, each of the two companies with billboards in the city will be allowed six digital billboards if they remove ten times that number of traditional billboards. But Julia Cole from the city’s legal department says most of the signs that have to be removed can be from a bank of billboards that aren’t even up.

For every one electronic billboard sign face that you're entitled to as a sign owner, you have to remove ten times that amount. Four of those signs, with the same amount of — say it's 4,000 square feet, has to be billboard signs in place. The other six can come from bank credits.

That doesn’t satisfy council member Linda Saul-Sena, who was the other vote against the digital-billboard ordinance.

They are very distracting. I don't think they're safe; I don't think they're wise. And if we do the math that Mister Miranda is pointing out, we see that in actuality, we're getting four billboards down for one. That the other six billboards are virtual — which is to say, invisible, which doesn't clean up the visual pollution created by billboards. Based on that, based on the distraction factor in these LED billboards, I will not be supporting the motion.

Council member John Dingfelder voted for the ordinance. He says it’s preferable to continued legal battles with the billboard companies.

I'm not in favor of digital billboards at all, and frankly, I wish we wouldn't have 'em in our city. However, we have been litigating with the billboard companies for probably a decade. We have spent hundreds of thousands, maybe even approaching a million dollars, on outside attorneys' fees, to litigate with the billboard companies. And I believe that this day has finally come when we can stop litigating with the billboard companies. They're going to continue to take down their billboards, and in return, they will put up — at least today, at the most — a dozen digital billboards in return. I think that between the settlement agreements that we've already passed, and this ordinance, I think we can resolve a lot of those. And at the same time, we will protect our neighborhoods, 'cause we have gone out of our way to make sure that these new digital billboards will not be in the neighborhoods.

The second and final reading of the digital-billboard ordinance will be on May 20th at 9:30 in the morning at Tampa City Hall.

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