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Emanuel Proposes Digital Billboards On City Property

An electronic billboard. (Credit: JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

An electronic billboard. (Credit: JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Mayor Rahm Emanuel has asked the City Council to approve a 20-year deal to put up 34 digital billboards along Chicago expressways, on city property.

WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports the deal would give exclusive digital billboard rights to a joint venture created by East Coast-based Interstate Outdoor Advertising and French firm JC Decaux – which installed all of the CTA’s bus shelters.

The companies would be allowed to install 34 digital signs on municipal property along the Kennedy, Dan Ryan, and other local expressways.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports

Emanuel rejected any notion it’s a monopoly deal.

“In the city of Chicago, there are 1,300 billboards. The city collects $1 million. We’re talking about 34 here, and they will do $15 million, and up to about [$150 million] over the tenure of the contract,” the mayor said.

The guarantee of $154 million in revenue for the city over the life of the deal was good enough to win the support of Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th).

“Making money off of it; why should we just let everybody else, as they would say in the neighborhood, pimp the city?” he said.

Asked why there was no public bidding for the deal, Emanuel said all offers were screened by a 15-member panel, and this plan was the best.

Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) promised to fight the plan, calling it an insider deal that was shut out to the public. He said the number of bidders was limited.

“It’s a bad deal for Chicago,” Fioretti said.

Fioretti said 10% of the advertising would be for alcohol products.

Although Fioretti said the first-year revenue of $15 million is a decent return for the deal, he said revenue later drops to about $6 million a year. He believes the city could get more money by opening the deal to public bidding.

He also complained the digital billboards are visual pollution, and the city shouldn’t be participating in that.

The full plan will be presented to aldermen next week, and the City Council must approve the proposal before it becomes official.