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Installation of digital billboards on city-owned property gets initial approval from council

By Staff | Dec 3, 2014

Installing digital billboards at the two bridge entrances to Cape Coral, an idea that has been kicked around for some six years, took its first step down the path to reality Monday night when City Council voted 6-2 to proceed with a Public/Private Partnership (P3) process on a proposal from Lamar Advertising.

Council’s approval of Councilmember Rana Erbrick’s motion allows the city to explore whether the proposal merits going through the P3 process according to new state statutes to promote such partnerships with commercial business entities.

Some council members were “nervous” about the uncertainty of qualifying as a P3 project and the process that lies ahead since the new statutes have not been tested in court.

Lamar’s unsolicited P3 proposal was presented to council by representative Joe Mazurkiewicz, president of BJM Consulting. This time, Lamar brought a new partner on board the project in the Cape Coral Caring Center, a non-profit that helps provide food to Cape families in need.

“Cape Coral Caring Center would receive an annual contribution of 37,000 pounds of food from Lamar’s advertising proceeds,” said Mazurkiewicz. “There are only two sites in consideration. This is a much cleaner proposal that will bring new revenue to the city of $1.7 million over the contract (40 years).”

The city would have control over the messages placed on the two digital electronic messaging centers (DEMC), such as public service messages, Amber Alerts, etc., which enhance the public service and awareness.

“We are not building billboards,” added Mazurkiewicz. “These are entry structures paid for by advertising revenue.”

In exchange for allowing Lamar to erect the structures on city owned or controlled property at Veterans Parkway/Del Prado Boulevard and the Cape Coral Bridge, Lamar would provide at no cost two small digital message boards to be placed on northbound and southbound sides of the Veterans Parkway overpass on Del Prado. The city currently erects banners there to announce various festivals and events held throughout the year. The digital boards would save the city $88,000 a year in the cost of putting up and taking down banners.

Councilmember Rick Williams, who cast one of the dissenting votes, said, “I’m concerned about public safety. That’s not the right place for them. It’s distracting to drivers, they are always moving and I just don’t like them myself. The bottom line is does Cape Coral want billboards or not, and they (Lamar) have tied a very good cause to this, so I will not support the motion.”

Councilmember Derrick Donnell, who ultimately cast the second dissenting vote, added, “Like the council member to my right, I’m nervous about it, but I see nothing compelling to vote it down. What I want to know is how this impacts our current sign ordinance?”

DCD director Vince Cautero responded, “We will have to amend the ordinance by crafting new language accordingly.”

City Attorney Delores Menendez replied, “You are at the cusp of a variety of untested statutes. Most communities allow off-site signs. It will be on property the city owns or controls, but yes, my office feels the city more likely will be challenged by someone wanting to put up other off-site signs if you open the door on this.”

Later, Donnell changed his mind, “I don’t like all the uncertainty, so I will not support the motion.”

Councilmember Jim Burch wanted to know if the project would create a slippery slope for more billboards.

“I think the city attorney should be telling me if this is a qualifying P3 project,” he said. “Does it send us down that slippery slope when, bang, we are beyond just two billboards (located on recently annexed private property in Northwest Cape). I’m really on the bubble here. I see no compelling reason to say no to this, but am still a little nervous about it being a qualifying P3 project.”

“These are permanent entry structures, not billboards,” said Councilmember Richard Leon. “It brings revenue into the city and helps a great cause.”

Councilmember Lenny Nesta said, “It does not hurt to try new ventures. I think it’s good for the city and brings us into the current century. Many cities have them and if you can’t drive down a road and be distracted by a sign then you need to alter your driving habits.”

Mazurkiewicz tried to assure council that, even though he is not an attorney, “We would not present this to you if this were a slippery slope issue. There is precedent when we brought in bus shelters and benches. You put up cell towers on city property, but you would not let an individual put up a cell tower on theirs.”

He noted that the cost of the structures Lamar is proposing – at $6 million – would deter most other companies from making similar proposals. He also pointed out other instances where the city has allowed off-site business signs in conflict with the sign ordinance.

Even though the proposal earned the go-ahead from council on Monday, the P3 process must run its course with the city having the final say in approving or denying the final proposal.