CITY HALL — The City Council Wednesday approved a 20-year digital-billboard deal that could bring in $270 million, though opponents compared the plan to the parking-meter lease and suggested it would cause "visual blight."
The deal passed 43-6, with Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) leading the opposition.
"This has parking-meter lease all over it," Fioretti said. "How do we know it's the best value? It's deja vu all over. ... Twenty-plus years is an awfully long time for something changing so rapidly.
"Do we now want to deface one of our best assets — our skyline?" he said, adding that the plan would cause "visual blight" and insisting that "the public space in the city belongs to the public, not the advertisers."
"The last time I checked, there is no coffee-table photo book of our expressways," countered Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd). "Shame on us, if we don't monetize this asset and take advantage of it."
Ald. John Arena (45th) criticized how, under the deal, putting 62 billboards on 34 posts along city expressways aldermen are unable to raise issues on behalf of residents, such as the billboards set for his ward along the Kennedy and Edens expressways.
"It's superseding our authority to be the watchdogs for our neighborhoods," he said.
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) and Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) raised similar concerns and joined Fioretti and Arena in voting against the lease, along with Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th) and Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th).
But money carried the day, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel pointing out the billboard plan guarantees the city $15 million in the first year. He challenged aldermen opposed to the deal to find $15 million in other revenue or $15 million in spending cuts.
Chicago's 75-year, $1.157 billion parking meter lease deal, signed in 2008, has been criticized as a poor deal for the city.