City Council committee signs off on digital billboards

December 4, 2012

A group of Chicago aldermen signed off Monday on Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to build a network of digital billboards across the city, but not before they spent more than four hours questioning the deal.

Just three aldermen voted against the mayor's plan to install 34 digital billboards along Chicago's expressways. City officials say the 20 year contract with Interstate-JCDecaux LLC will bring in at least $154 million dollars. 

Alderman Scott Waguespack (32) voted against the proposal. Waguespack, who would end up with five of the digital billboards in his ward, said he had issues with the process the city used to aquire the contract. In his opinion, things moved along a little too quickly.

"There are still questions out there as to who was involved and who was allowed to take part in the overall RFQ process so a lot of questions unanswered," Waguespack said.

Lois Scott, the city's chief financial officer, said the city reached out to over 6,000 vendors for the original RFQ, then recieved five viable proposals about large billboard signs. Officials then whittled the field down to two companies and eventually landed on the final deal with Interstate-JCDecaux. 

"If there is a more competitive process than what was used I've not encountered it in the course of my 30 year career," Scott said.

There were other complaints too. The billboards will be up to 100 feet tall, and some will have multiple faces. Officials said they would flash a different advertisement every 10 seconds. Alderman Tom Tunney (44) was one of many concerned about how constituents would take to the look of the billboards. 

"We get complaints from the west lake front, the west view about signs already on the Kennedy," Tunney said.

City officials told aldermen that billboards could also be used for emergency notifications or public service announcements. Alderman Deborah Graham (29) was one of many who asked if she could use the signs to advertise ward events. Officials said there are some restrictions on the use of the billboards, including any political messages, so if the advertisement didn’t use her name, it might be acceptable.

"Would the mayor’s name be used on on the billboards?" Graham asked.

The answer to that question was probably not, but the details are still being worked out.

One minor alteration was made to the bill, after there was criticism from aldermen about the length of the contract with Interstate-JC Decaux. The original proposal allowed for an automatic renewal of the contract for nine additional years unless City Council chose to end it. Alderman passed an amendment that would require City Council to approve the extension.

If the contract is approved by the full city council next week, the signs will start popping up along expressways as soon as next year.