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Electronic Billboard Deal Set To Be Extended For 4 Years Despite Criticism

By Heather Cherone | November 15, 2016 5:20am
 An electronic billboard in Jefferson Park.
An electronic billboard in Jefferson Park.
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

CITY HALL — The city's 20-year digital-billboard deal — designed to fill the city's coffers with cash in return for the right to build 63 towering advertisements near Chicago expressways — would be extended for four years under a measure set to be considered by the City Council on Wednesday.

Critics of the 2012 deal with JCDecaux and Interstate Outdoor contend the billboards have polluted Chicago neighborhoods and diminished the quality of life for those who live near the 34 towers, which measure 100 feet tall. All but five towers are set to have two billboards that flash a changing message as motorists whiz by.

Six aldermen voted against the deal that guaranteed the city $154 million. But officials have said they hope the agreement would be far more lucrative for the city and bring it a total of $270 million, after a cost-sharing agreement kicks in.

"This was not a good deal for Chicagoans," said 32nd Ward Ald. Scott Waguespack who voted against the deal. "This request is an admission of failure."

Chief Financial Officer Carole Brown told the City Council that the deal should be extended until 2036 because there were unanticipated delays in erecting the signs due to weather and legal issues.

"This would give us the leeway we need to get the program to an end," Brown said.

However, Waguespack said the issues with building the billboards should not prompt the council to extend the agreement.

"This is a horrible ordinance," Waguespack said.

The 32nd Ward, which includes Wicker Park, has five of the billboards, and they are a frequent source of complaints to his office, Waguespack said.

At one point, construction crews almost drilled into pipes owned by Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, Waguespack said.

Ald. John Arena (45th), who also opposed the original deal, said he saw no reason for the city to essentially reimburse the advertising firms for delays not caused by city officials.

On the border between Jefferson Park and Portage Park, Arena physically blocked crews from starting work on a electronic billboard set to be built in the middle of Wilson Avenue at Lamon Avenue, permanently closing the road in front of the Mayfair Pumping Station to traffic.

Work on the billboard remains stalled after Arena's strenuous objections and fierce opposition from nearby residents.

At a budget hearing Nov. 7, Arena said he was concerned that the language of the measure that would extend the deal eliminated the ability of the City Council to keep tabs on the deal and the billboards that have yet to be built.

However, Brown said the council would retain the ability to determine whether billboards should be built in specific locations.

"It does give us greater authority and flexibility," Brown said, acknowledging Arena's concerns.

A proposal introduced by Arena and Waguespack to ensure that the council retains its oversight of the program is under discussion by representatives of the mayor and the two aldermen, a spokeswoman for the mayor said Monday.

Waguespack could not be reached Monday.

The measure extending the agreement is set to be approved Wednesday as part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's $8.2 billion 2017 spending plan.

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