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Two digital billboards get Council approval

By Staff | Jun 15, 2016

Lamar Advertising gained city permission Monday to put up two entry structures in Cape Coral with digital message billboards.

The contract has been batted back and forth for several years until the Cape Coral City Council approved, in 2015, researching the issue as a P3, or Public-Private Partnership agreement.

The structures now approved by council Monday will be constructed at the foot of the Cape Coral Bridge on city controlled property and the Veterans Memorial Bridge on city owned property.

Council members Jim Burch, who was excused from the meeting but voted by phone, and Rick Williams cast the dissenting votes in a 6-2 approval. Mayor Marni Sawicki and Councilmember Jessica Cosden reminded their colleagues that the vote was on the contract agreement, not on allowing digital messages on the entry structure.

“I have heard this argument twice and I’ve been tepidly in favor of it, but you know I like to go by the facts,” Burch said. “The data on it impacting younger and elderly drivers the most, it’s just common sense for the public safety there is no reason to go there.”

“For me, if staff is comfortable with the contract I’m comfortable,” Sawicki said. “We already approved the project when we sent it for a P3 process. What’s before us tonight is the contract itself.”

Cosden agreed with the Mayor and added, “I grew up in Cape Coral so I am not used to seeing billboards in this city. I’m uncomfortable with billboards but, like the Mayor said, we are here to approve the contract.”

Councilmember Rana Erbrick weighed in, saying, “I spent many months with these folks in meetings and I’m not buying into the argument of paying attention to the signs. This is a great agreement from where we started to where we are now. I was amazed at the detail that staff got Lamar to agree to.”

Staff presentations listed several drawbacks to the billboards, including drivers becoming distracted on two busy roadways in the city, and the city attorney’s concern about possible litigation from companies wanting to erect billboards elsewhere in the city.

Distracted driving was the main concern for Williams.

“That’s a huge problem for me,” he said. “And possibility of billboards throughout the city concerns me. It’s a 20-year contract, so it could cost the city a lot of money to get out of it if they cause a lot of accidents.”

Lamar will design, construct, finance, maintain and operate the structures. The city owns the structures and will receive an annual payment of $54,200. Lamar will have the opportunity for two 10-year renewals after the initial 20 years. The company also is offering a $12,500 annual donation to the Cape Coral Caring Center to help the food bank.

The city also receives two 3-foot-by-16-foot digital message boards to be installed on the Del Prado Boulevard overpass both north and southbound for the city’s exclusive messaging.

BJM?Consulting President Joe Mazurkiewicz, who has represented Lamar in the project, pointed out that 25 digital billboards have been located throughout Lee County for years without generating one lawsuit or complaint.

“Police use electronic billboards for public service announcements,” said Mazurkiewicz. “So does the city, and parks & recreation. You can’t say on one hand we think these are dangerous, and then on the other use them to get your messages out.”

There was no mention of when Lamar will begin construction of the entry structures.