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Big Digital Billboard Along Kennedy in Bucktown Installed

By Alisa Hauser | October 22, 2014 1:45pm
 A new digital billboard overlooking the Kennedy Expressway in Bucktown.
Digital Billboard Overlooking the Kennedy Expressway in Bucktown
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BUCKTOWN — Work wrapped up this week on the installation of a massive two-sided digital billboard in Bucktown, one of several signs overlooking the Kennedy Expressway approved by the City Council in 2012 despite objections from six alderman.

Located where Paulina Street meets the Kennedy Expressway's Armitage Avenue entrance ramp, the 100-foot-tall digital billboard, which is 60-foot-long by 20-foot-wide, is visible to northbound and southbound highway traffic.

The billboard has not yet been activated to show ads.

The board is one of three electronic signs that could be coming to the Bucktown area, according to a list of 34 proposed locations included in a plan by New York City-based Interstate JCDecaux.

The billboards, approved in December 2012 by the Chicago City Council, could generate $270 million for the city during the next 20 years.

The Bucktown billboard is the eighth installed as part of the deal the city made in 2012 to add 34 new billboards along the Kennedy and Eisenhower expressways.

The installation of the Bucktown board appears to be nearly a year behind schedule; the city issued a building permit to JCDecaux back in Dec. 2013 for the billboard at 1929 N. Paulina St., which carries an estimated cost of $873,562.

The boards were all initially planned to have been installed by spring but have been delayed, Crain's reported in March.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) was one of six alderman who opposed the plan.

"While some people argue that these help fill the city coffers with much needed funds, the return on the deal and the blight is not worth the damage to the aesthetic of the City," Waguespack said Tuesday.

Waguespack said he voted against the plan for a number of reasons, including light pollution and blight for residents and businesses. He also predicts property values will be hurt by the ads and said he is concerned about signs proliferating without aldermanic approval.

Waguespack said the ordinance passed in 2012 is exempt from federal, state and city regulations that exist for billboards, such as limiting boards to 50 feet tall, notifying residents of new billboards within 250 feet of their property and not allowing any boards within 500 feet of the highway.

The 2012 billboard deal allows the city's chief financial officer to extend the contract and award additional signs without council approval, Waguespack said.

City officials and JCDecaux did not respond to questions about how many of the proposed billboards have been installed, if any of the locations have been altered from the initially proposed spots or when the project is expected to be complete.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office challenged Waguespack's claims that the billboards included in the 2012 ordinance are exempt from existing regulations and that the contract can be extended without oversight.

"The signs are not exempt from federal, state or local laws and the city complies with all of those," mayor's office spokeswoman Elizabeth Langsdorf said. "The CFO cannot extend the contract without City Council consent."

A Chicago billboard map on JCDecaux's website, though, shows that seven billboards, not including the new Bucktown board (which has an address of 1748 W. Armitage Ave. on the JCDecaux site), have been installed thus far.

According to the JCDecaux map, about 20 more digital billboards are coming soon to spots along the Kennedy. On Aug. 4, the city issued a permit to JCDecaux to erect a 20-by-60-foot billboard at 1265 W. Division St., in West Town with estimated cost of the construction is $873,562. And on July 16, the city issued a permit to JCDecaux to erect a 20-by-60 billboard at 2742 N. Rockwell St. in Logan Square. The estimated cost of the construction permit is $873,562, according to the permit.

The installation in Bucktown follows three other billboards installed over the summer along the Kennedy in the Jefferson Park area.

Steve Jensen, president of the Bucktown Community Organization, said members of the Bucktown neighborhood group and other residents "vehemently oppose any LED billboards erected in Bucktown whether Jumbotron or 10 x 10 wall-mounted."

"There are 10 different issues we are against, from light pollution to disturbing people. It looks bad, it's going to be bright and gaudy," Jensen said.

Some residents aired their thoughts on the Bucktown Community News Facebook page about the new billboard.

"Seeing the glorious dome and angels of St. Mary of the Angels hovering over Bucktown was my first view of what has been my neighborhood for 24 years. Future residents and visitors will welcomed by bright JCDecaux Television ads since it now masks the view of Church," wrote Stephen Jones.

But Jennifer Conklin, who lives near Armitage and Wolcott Avenue, about three blocks west of the billboard, said she's "seen worse" and thought they were "better than more taxes as a way to raise revenue."

While calling the new billboard "not the most attractive," Michael Sackar allowed that the light from the billboard "might make an evening dog walk a bit safer!"

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