Fight Brewing over Digital Billboards

Members of the Revere Beautification Committee (RBC) typically focus in on trash, but currently they are crunching numbers and they believe the City is getting ripped off by billboard companies looking to convert to digital displays.

Currently, ClearChannel Outdoor – regionally located in Stoneham – is proposing to convert its existing two-sided traditional billboard on Lee Burbank Highway to a digital display on both sides. Such conversions seem to be the recipe du jour for billboard companies, and already the City has perhaps let two billboards (four total faces) slip by in a proposal by Van Wagner earlier this year. That proposal was the first to convert and got approval to convert one billboard on Lee Burbank Highway, and another that is above Plaza Garibaldi on the Parkway.

The digital conversion flood seems to have something to do with new rules initiated at the state’s Outdoor Advertising Board (OAB) concerning digital billboard faces.

RBC members showed up in force at the Van Wagner hearing, but most considered the conversion to be light lifting, as the billboards already existed and the companies were willing to pay into a 25-year mitigation package.

However, this time around the RBC has done it’s homework – and based on a similar mitigation package signed between the state and ClearChannel – RBC members say the City could be missing out on more than $1 million over 25 years.

“It’s common sense,” said RBC member Ron Champoux. “Why would we take $25,000 per year – basically $10,000 per billboard face – when the state has already negotiated a similar contract that calls for a minimum of $50,000 per face and up to $90,000 per face. They’ve even negotiated inflation and the possibility of taking 25 percent of the gross advertising revenues if that is higher than the payments. It doesn’t make any sense. Forget the aesthetics. Forget the illumination issues. I don’t think we’re there yet as a community for those things. However, we can negotiate a better deal here and, in addition, we’d also like to see ClearChannel take down some of the existing billboards in the neighborhoods.”

The ClearChannel mitigation package is exactly the same as the already-approved Van Wagner deal. It calls for a 25 year contract where the company will pay the City $20,000 per year for 25 years. Each year they will also contribute $5,000 to the Revere Beach Partnership’s Sandcastle Festival. It does not call for accommodating inflation and it also does not give the City the option of taking gross ad revenues.

In some back of the envelope math, purely unofficial, Champoux said he calculated that if Revere were getting the low end of the state contract deal with ClearChannel for digital billboards, it would equal out to about $2.34 million over 25 years. Meanwhile, the current deal proposed to Revere by ClearChannel will result in $435,328, he said, with inflation factored in.

That is a difference of $1.9 million.

“My figures might not be completely scientific, but it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that the City needs to negotiate for a much greater mitigation package,” said Champoux. “It would be the RBC’s hope that any new package would also include the removal of many Billboards in the City of Revere.”

Right now, the ClearChannel proposal is in the Zoning Committee, and the proposal already had a public hearing on July 22nd.

At that hearing, most councillors seemed to favor the proposal and didn’t give much credence to the RBC’s protest.

Many felt that the revenue from the mitigation package was adequate, but Champoux said outreach efforts concerning the state contract with ClearChannel has some councillors thinking twice about the deal. The Council is expected to address the issue again in the coming weeks and could vote on it as soon as Aug. 26th.

It is anticipated that many other billboard companies will be flooding the Council with similar request as the digital faces are preferable to the traditional boards.

“We can’t do anything about the Van Wagner billboards,” he said, with agreement from members Carol Haney and Eleanor Vieira. “They’re already granted, but this is a chance with ClearChannel to stop it and to send a message to any future applicants. We can get a lot more for the City annually on this ClearChannel billboard. We can get other billboards taken down. I can see a mitigation package where we accomplish both of those things.”

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