Council Committee Approves Digital Ads

Center City one step closer to looking like Times Square.

A rendering of a digital display on South Broad Street

A rendering of a digital display on South Broad Street

Center City is one step closer to looking like Times Square.

A City Council Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that will allow “urban experiential displays” — 3D digital billboards — to be built at a few select locations in Philadelphia’s downtown district.

KYW reports that the bill was supported by Thadeus Bartkowski, founder of Catalyst Outdoors, which wants to build three of the digital displays — 30 to 50 feet in height — at three locations in Center City.

Bartkowski says, “It’s about creating a multi-faceted communication platform, that’s able to add vibrancy in unique commercial corridors.”

Bartkowski proposes three locations — outside the Convention Center, across from the Reading Terminal Market, and on the facade of the Bellevue Hotel garage on South Broad Street.

He says 70-percent of the content displayed would be ads, the rest would be PSAs and other material — including promotions for local non-profits: “What’s trying to be created here is a pedestrian-viewer experience, not just a simple single form of technology.”

Representatives from Reading Terminal Market, the Pennsylvania Convention Center, and the Avenue of the Arts all testified in favor of the bill.

PlanPhilly reminds us that Council members voted for the bill despite a 6-2 recommendation against it from the Planning Commission.

After a series of proposed amendments, a majority of the Commissioners still voted against the bill. That seemed to confound and frustrate members of Council. Committee members Cindy Bass, Wilson Goode, Jr., and Bill Greenlee asked why Planning would go through the trouble of working to amend the bill if they were going to vote against it anyway. Hadn’t the amendments addressed their concerns?

Gary Jastrzab, executive director of the Planning Commission, said that even after the amendments—which limit brightness and require PennDOT approval of each sign—Commissioners still felt the signs were overly big and tall, and would have a negative impact on the public realm.

“If they had a fundamental [opposition],” said Councilman Greenlee after the hearing, “I think they should have just said that, instead of having people, including their own staff, go through all this work and seem to, from what we heard today, address just about every specific concern that was raised, yet then said, ‘We don’t like it.’ Well, maybe they should have just said that.”

The bill goes to the full City Council as soon as next week.

Previously: Poll: Do You Like the Idea of Urban Experiential Displays in Center City?