Faced with deciding between a steady revenue stream for the city’s new Community Center and violating its own sign code, the Greenfield Common Council asked for more time.
On Tuesday, the five alderpersons requested that a proposed agreement between the Parks and Recreation Department and Clear Channel, that would allow for the advertising company to install and operate a monument-style electronic reader board sign on the Community Center’s lawn, go back to the Parks and Recreation Board for some possible tweaking and fine-tuning.
Approving the proposal as presented to the council Tuesday would violate the city’s sign code ordinance that does not allow off-site signage, or signage that does not directly relate back to the property the sign sits on.
The sign at the Community Center would have several rotating screens with one dedicated to city or Community Center-related messages and the others used as paid advertisements from off-site businesses. In exchange for the prime location, Clear Channel has offered to pay all building, installation and operating costs of the sign, as well as a monthly or annual fee to the Parks and Recreation Department.
City Attorney Roger Pyzyk cautioned against the precedent the city would be setting by approving the sign.
“You’d be saying, if the city is making money off it, which is not a terrible thing, then we turn a blind eye to the ordinance and we allow off-site signage,” he said. “But now we’ve got an argument that becomes indefensible … when billboard companies come in and start requesting to put up signs.”
Alderman Karl Kastner was concerned about the city's aesthetics if it allowed this sign, and subsequently had to allow future signs. He envisioned billboards and signs popping up all over the city’s busy commercial corridors.
“I don’t know if that’s the look the city is desiring,” Kastner said. “I don’t know if we want a bank advertised at City Hall, or eggs. … I’d love to see the money come into the city, but it’s a terrible trend to start. It’s literally in a residential neighborhood. I don’t like that direction.”
Denise Collins of the Parks and Recreation Board called the proposal a creative example of public and private partnership, and praised the financial potential of the board and its ability to post emergency messages such as Amber Alerts.
Director of Neighborhood Services Richard Sokol said the Plan Commission opposed the proposal as it was presented because of the precedent it would set, but also pointed out the Parks and Recreation Department has been challenged to cover the costs to build and operate the Community Center. He borrowed the now-popular word used by Gov. Scott Walker when explaining the city’s role in helping the Parks and Recreation Department do just that.
“We have to give the Parks and Recreation Committee the tools,” he said. “This sign is the tool to do it.”
Mayor Michael Neitzke said the arrangement with Clear Channel, which was estimated at $12,000 annually, would cover half to two-thirds of the center’s operating costs. He said he shared the city’s concerns of the potential fallout for approving the sign.
“It’s not as simple as any of us might have thought it was early on,” he said. “The legal concerns are real.”