Miami’s future looks bright, hideously bright

By | July 3rd, 2011 | No Comments

With giant advertisements plastered on the exterior of its own building, the Miami Herald may have weak standing to call the City of Miami out on its mad-dash to bathe our landscape in the lucrative light of enormous LED billboards — in possible violation of county ordinance. Nonetheless, the paper’s resident Urbanista, Andres Viglucci (who I spotted at BAR after the June Critical Mass), offers a thorough account of our budget-broken burg’s aggressive push to line expressways with electronic signage. An excerpt from “Digital billboards in downtown Miami may flout law”:

All of a sudden, hard-to-miss examples of the advertising industry’s latest innovation are popping up along expressways in and around downtown Miami: Giant LED-illuminated digital billboards that change ads 10,800 times in a day.

And if the city of Miami gets its wish, you haven’t seen anything yet.

The cash-starved city has aggressively adopted new ordinances and lucrative agreements with ad companies that could transform vistas across the length and breadth of Miami’s expressways.

The appearance of half a dozen of ClearChannel’s LEDs — all permitted by the city — represents the leading edge of a trend that could forest the flanks of Interstates 95, 195 and 395, along with State Road 836, with billboards, banners and other outdoor ads. Many of those would be bright, winking digital signs.

“If the city’s push succeeds,” Viglucci continues, “it would effectively reverse 40 years of public policies that limit the number and placement of billboards along expressways within city limits — restrictions intended to safeguard views of Miami’s skyline and natural landscape.”

While the city seems bent on bridging part of its yawning budget gap with signage contracts — worth between $4 and $6 million per year, Viglucci reports — there’s one little problem: The billboards may be illegal.

Last month, the Federal Highway Administration effectively disallowed the 2007 city ordinance that permitted 35 giant ad banners, euphemistically dubbed “murals,” to be festooned over buildings in and around downtown — including the city administrative center and The Miami Herald building.

And the state’s chief billboard regulator concluded the digital “media mesh’’ hung across the front of the Miami Heat’s downtown arena, a sign authorized by the city, violates state and federal restrictions. The regulator … has also cast doubt on the legality of a developer’s city-backed proposal to erect a pair of 40-story-plus digital “media towers’’ in the Omni district by the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

The developer referred to is Mark Siffin, and, as we posted last month, he values the Babel-esque “media towers” at $100 million. If that outlandish figure doesn’t make it clear that the imminent “billboardification” of Miami is all about the Benjamins, then leave it to Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, whose district includes downtown.

“If I had my druthers, I wouldn’t have any billboards,’’ Sarnoff told the Herald. “But unless everyone wants to pay more taxes, the revenue derived from commercial messaging in general is a necessity for the city to maintain its budget. The public interest should be to keep the commercial signs downtown and out of everyone’s neighborhoods.’’

Of course, Sarnoff seems to be ignoring the fact that keeping the billboards downtown does not keep them out of everyone’s neighborhoods, as they would certainly be visible to the residents of nearby Overtown.

He is also ignoring the public interest of not erecting enormous, blinking Lite-Brites in view of an expressway. As anti-billboard advocate and Scenic Miami director Barbara Bisno said in last month’s post, “These billboards change message every eight seconds with the idea, of course, to catch the eye of motorists, which goes against the public interest on its face. Now we’ll have people texting, talking, and looking away while going 50 to 60 miles per hour.”

Still, with the county scheduled to consider a proposal by commissioner Bruno Barreiro that would let cities write their own signage rules, it seems as though Miami is speeding recklessly toward a garishly bright future.

“It’s really changing the landscape radically,’’ Ernest Martin, a billboard critic and member of the city’s Planning and Zoning Board, told the Herald. “We used to be recognized around the country as having a strong ordinance. But the enforcement has been nil. The commercialization of our city is astonishing.’’

The county’s land-use committee will consider Barreiro’s proposal on July 13.

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Rage, rage against the buying of the light

By | June 15th, 2011 | 5 Comments
Billboard Bathing by Robby Campbell

'Billboard Bathing' by Robby Campbell

Wednesday afternoon, a Miami-Dade County committee is voting on whether to allow the City of Miami to erect massive electronic billboards along major roads, including I-95, I-395, and the Dolphin Expressway. The committee will consider an amendment brought by District 5 commissioner Bruno Barreiro, which will let Miami and other municipalities opt out of a county sign ordinance that for decades has closely regulated the number and kind of billboards along expressways.

Update: The committee voted to defer the matter until their next meeting, on July 13. See comments section for more.

The electronic billboards — which boast brilliant LED displays and cycle through multiple digital advertisements — bring in huge revenue. Developer Mark Siffin, who wants to erect two 50-story electronic billboards downtown, six blocks west of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, estimated the value of the “media towers” at $100 million.

With so much money up for grabs, it is no surprise that developers and outdoor advertising giants like Clear Channel, which recently won city approval to erect 14 electronic billboards, are drooling at the chance to flood Miami neighborhoods with the lucrative light.

But they have met opposition from activists who say the billboards are illegal and pose a threat to both the economic health and scenic beauty of their surroundings.

Barbara Bisno, director of Scenic Miami-Dade, is leading the fight against the towers. She says Barreiro’s amendment “flies in the face” of decades of county planning that has sought to make Miami visually alluring to tourists.

“It’s very sad,” says Bisno, a former federal prosecutor who calls the city’s Clear Channel decision illegal. “We’ve had for 30 years a commitment from the county, and the city has violated it.”

Beyond aesthetic concerns, Bisno also worries that the electronic towers may prove dangerously distracting to expressway commuters.

“These billboards change message every eight seconds with the idea, of course, to catch the eye of motorists, which goes against the public interest on its face” she says. “Now we’ll have people texting, talking, and looking away while going 50 to 60 miles per hour.”

With the committee’s July 13 meeting fast approaching, Bisno is asking concerned citizens to visit Scenic Miami-Dade’s “Take Action” page to let the county know how they feel about the “billboardification” of Miami.


Check out “Billboard Bathing” in full size.

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