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Greenfield tries to avoid a sign of things to come

Device will raise revenue, but will it set a precedent?

Jan. 31, 2012

Greenfield - With the approval of one flashing sign, Greenfield leaders hope they aren't opening the city up to TV-like advertising signs along its thoroughfares.

The sign, OK'd by the Common Council recently, will generate revenue to support the city's own Greenfield Community Center, 7215 W. Cold Spring Road, through the sale of advertisements.

Under a lease plan the city has yet to approve, it would collect an estimated $12,000 per year from the company that's in charge of the sign, which will be placed in front of the building.

What makes the council's action more significant is that, for the first time, businesses will be able to advertise on a non-billboard sign on someone else's property elsewhere in the city.

Sign-control effort

The request by the community center to scoop up some nontax revenue by selling advertising on its sign seemed a simple one. But it tripped over two problems at the council.

One was whether it would lead to a proliferation of signs and off-site advertising.

To try to avoid that, the council decided to limit off-site sign advertising to signs on public property associated with public buildings.

But that still leaves the door open to Milwaukee County and the two school districts in the city to erect similar signs, said Karl Kastner, Common Council president, who cast the only "no" vote. Milwaukee County, which is desperate for revenue, alone could conceivably have its signs on Root River Parkway, Cold Spring Road, Highway 100, Beloit Road and 92nd Street and Forest Home Avenue, he noted.

Sending the right message

The second stumbling block was how to make sure the messages on the sign aren't offensive and look like the city endorses the messages.

With the community center located beside City Hall, Mayor Michael Neitzke didn't want to see an offensive message on the sign with the City Hall in the background showing up on TV news.

To try to avoid that, the city went with Clear Channel Outdoor to handle booking the advertisers. Clear Channel already performs that task for an electronic billboard that operates at the Department of Public Works yard at 52nd Street and Armour Avenue.

The city has had no complaints about the messages on the billboard in the two years it has flashed its messages at the Loomis Road off-ramp of Interstate 894, Neitzke said. Billboards are already allowed to advertise businesses off-premises.

But it's a thin line when talking about offending people, Kastner suggested. As an example of how seemingly innocuous messages can cause a stir, Kastner pointed to the splash a man made when he objected to McDonald's restaurants being associated with the Olympics.

Considering a deal

Even so, the city is moving forward with the idea and a 20-year lease may come before the Finance and Human Resources Committee as early as Feb. 8. The Parks and Recreation Board is expected to hold a special meeting on the lease before that.

The sign will be 6 feet by 12 feet and show seven or eight messages a minute. City officials want to be able to put up at least one message per minute for city purposes, such as telling motorists of upcoming events.

NEXT STEP

WHAT: possible recommendation by the Finance and Human Resources Committee of a 20-year lease with Clear Channel Outdoor to operate a digital sign to be erected in front of the Greenfield Community Center

WHEN: as early as the 6:30 p.m. Feb. 8 meeting

WHERE: City Hall, 7325 W. Forest Home Ave.

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