Digital billboards back to the discussion board for Urbana

By Fatima Farha

Digital billboards have been a tough sell for the city of Urbana.

Over the last few years council members have gone back and forth over the issue that was once again brought up at the city council committee of the whole meeting on Monday. Ultimately, the city council will continue to develop conversation in committee for another five weeks.

The installation of digital billboards in Urbana was first brought up in 2012, said Cain Kiser, real estate manager at Adams Outdoor Advertising, which would install the structures.

Kiser said the billboards would replace the current static billboards and each new digital billboard would be able to display eight advertisements.

“Digital advertising is an efficient means of advertising on high demand locations. Digital billboards give more clients the opportunity to advertise on that single location,” Kiser said.

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    Naomi Jakobsson, Urbana resident and former state representative, spoke in favor of digital billboards because of the benefits she believes it would bring for local businesses.

    She said she has taken advantage of digital billboards before and was satisfied with their services. Jakobsson also said it should be the city council’s responsibility to encourage economic development in the community.

    “We talk about competition with our sister city and they’re already ahead of us, and I don’t think we should let them stay ahead of us,” Jakobsson said. “Urbana should be attracting businesses and not turning them away.”

    However, Esther Patt, member of the Mayor’s Neighborhood Safety Task Force, said she wanted to persuade the council to vote against digital billboards.

    Patt said she was most concerned that the billboards would bring in profits for the advertising agency, but no benefits to the community. To her, the billboards are a distraction to drivers, more expensive, bad for the environment and overall aesthetically displeasing.

    “It has been the policy of the city of Urbana for decades now to try to phase out billboards,” Patt said. “I feel that if you approve digitals, besides increasing distracted driving, wasting energy and not getting any money or benefits for the people of Urbana, you almost ensure that from 30 years from now we’ll still have billboards in our city.”

    The city council decided to postpone their decision after listening to the public and hearing a presentation from city staff proposing the rules and procedures of the ordinance, which included regulations concerning advertisement display time, safety provisions, illumination, removal and replacement of static billboards and a license program.

    The council’s main concern was that there were too many holes in the ordinance and not everyone was clear on what it entailed, said Alderman Aaron Ammons, Ward 3.

    The council wanted to clarify how much businesses would be taxed for advertising, how long advertisements would be displayed on each billboard and whether it would be worth the costs.

    Alderman Dennis Roberts, Ward 5, said it would be in the city’s best interests to hold the decision until there was a complete understanding about the ordinance.

    “I think that probably the smartest thing the city can do is make sure whatever we adopt truly fits the nature and intent of our constituents in our community and reflects what is authentic for Urbana, and that may not be what is authentic for other cities,” Roberts said.

    The council will discuss the issue again in five weeks, after city staff makes changes to the ordinance and presents more clarified procedures.

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