The St. Petersburg City Council has a rare chance tonight to correct a mistake and vote for a more beautiful Sunshine City. For the second time in a year, it will consider a much-vetted proposed ordinance and agreement with Clear Channel that would allow six digital billboards along the interstates after the removal of 80 traditional billboards, most of them on the city's surface streets. The council should not miss another chance to achieve so much aesthetic improvement so quickly.
Under the plan, within six months of its application approval, Clear Channel would have to remove up to 80 traditional billboard faces and their supporting structures before it could erect the first of up to six digital billboard faces along I-275 and its feeders. The signs would be tightly regulated, including a minimum 10-second duration for messages. They also would be available for emergency messaging and some city advertising.
The company would be banned from advertising products inappropriate for minors within 500 feet of schools or areas where children congregate. And the ordinance restricts any future construction of even traditional billboards to the interstates, ensuring the elimination of blight is permanent.
What residents would notice: Several of the city's major thoroughfares — including Fourth, Martin Luther King, 34th and 49th streets, and Tyrone Boulevard and 38th Avenue N — would be dramatically cleared of billboard clutter quickly.
In an ideal world, the blight would already be gone. Twelve months ago, the council surprisingly rejected a similar deal on a 5-3 vote after two council members switched their votes amid considerable pressure from critics who argued the plan didn't do enough to get rid of billboards. They wanted the council instead to embark on the legally complicated process of banning both digital and traditional billboards. But the shortsightedness of that rejection should be clearer now. In the intervening months, the city has taken no steps toward a ban, and the city remains as cluttered as ever. And comments by several council members in June at an initial public hearing suggest sensibilities have changed in the past year.
Today, the council should vote to make the City Beautiful even more so.