Public Hearing Ordered for City Property Advertising Bills

Aug 1, 2012

Pittsburgh City Council will consider comments from experts and the public at large before voting on a package of bills that would allow private companies to advertise on some city property.

The bills would prohibit any large billboards and also ban advertising in Little League fields, among other exclusions. However, the city could open up a number of venues to small-scale commercial ads, including the city website, the city cable channel, city employees' uniforms and vehicles, and some areas in city parks.

Council members expressed a variety of opinions on the advertising legislation at Wednesday's committee meeting.

"My fear is you cannot legislate good taste," said Councilman Bruce Kraus. "Once money comes into the picture, good taste tends to go out the window."

Kraus said he's open to discussion on the bills, however.

The legislation would certainly bring in revenue for the city, according to Councilman Patrick Dowd, but he said it would come at a cost as well.

"It's an opportunity cost," said Dowd. "It's a place where we could have been focusing on the four priorities of the city government for the next five years, or we could be promoting the great things the city does each month, or whatever. We're giving away that space to people who are paying for it."

In fact, the city needs the advertising effort to bring in about $1.2 million to $2 million each year for the next five years. That's according to Councilman Bill Peduto, who said the city budgeted for that amount in its five-year plan.

Despite the widespread concerns, many Council members said they're open to the idea of advertising. Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak said the city should allow advertising within its parking garages.

"The [Pittsburgh] Cultural Trust, for example. You would think it would be natural to be able to have advertisements for downtown eateries and downtown things on our parking stations, but now we can't. We literally can't do that," said Rudiak. "This is why this legislation is so important, because we're literally leaving revenue on the table right now."

Councilwoman Theresa Smith said the advertising bills could help the city government prevent tax increases in the future.

The decision to hold the advertising bills for public comment comes just before Council's August recess, so it's likely the post-agenda meeting and public hearing will be held in September at the earliest.