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Gulfport rejects plan for benches bearing ads

GULFPORT — The fight over whether advertising-laden benches will be placed around the city is over.

The good news is that Gulfport will not be inundated with advertising.

The bad news is there will be no new places for residents and bus riders to rest their weary bones.

The City Council on Tuesday indefinitely tabled an ordinance that would have amended the city's sign ordinance to allow for benches with advertising on them.

The bench fight has been a long and passionate one — and it has been about a lot more than wooden seats.

The Gulfport Lions Club had been in talks about a bench project for a couple of years before the program was officially pitched to the city in September, according to Art Padula, secretary of the local Lions club.

The bench project, run by Metropolitan Advertising Co. in Tampa, allows local nonprofits — in this case the Lions Club — to advertise on a portion of the benches placed in a city. The rest of the benches are sold for paid advertisements, which pay for the benches and their upkeep.

Andrew Moos, committee chairman of the benches program for the Lions of Florida, and state Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, on retainer in his capacity as a private practice lawyer, sold the Gulfport Lions on the plan. Then they approached the city.

"We met individually with all the council representatives and they all were in favor of the plan," Kriseman said, "otherwise we wouldn't have gone through with it.

"It provides benches to the city at no cost and maintains them at no cost," Kriseman said. "And, it provides the opportunity for nonprofits to get exposure."

However, before the city could enter into a contract to get the advertising benches, it had to amend its sign ordinance. That vote passed on first reading in November. It was brought up for second reading at a special meeting Tuesday.

While the meeting was only to amend the sign ordinance, a host of residents spoke against the benches.

"I don't believe in commercializing the city's roadways," Margarete Tober said.

"They take away from the beauty of the city," Al Davis said.

"We ask that they not be allowed to visibly litter our city," Nancy Kelly said.

The council voted 3-2, with Michele King and Sam Henderson casting the dissenting votes, to indefinitely table the ordinance.

Padula said the Lions Club no longer wants anything to do with it.

"We were never offered any money at all. We thought we were doing something good for the city," Padula said.

"We're done. It'll never get passed."

Gulfport rejects plan for benches bearing ads 01/16/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 15, 2010 6:56pm]
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