Manhattan Community Boards

City for Sale? Parking Meter

Ads Are Imminent

What with marketing gurus having already colonized bike-messenger T-shirts and restaurant bathroom stalls, it would seem as if Madison Avenue couldn’t possibly find another surface in the city to plaster with advertising. Not so. Prepare yourself for an imminent eruption of messages wrapped around that ubiquitous New York feature, the parking meter.

After a year of ironing out the details once the Department of Transportation approved the plan, a one-year pilot program to test this “alternative” style of advertising in New York City is finally set to begin.

At its May 7 meeting, the Upper West Side’s Community Board 7 (echoing the April resolution of the Upper East Side’s Community Board 8) voted unanimously to send word to the D.O.T. of its vehement disapproval. Balking at what it described as the excess of sidewalk ads on phone booths and bus shelters already, Board 7 countered with a completely different plan: to do away with the optical nuisance of parking meters altogether by installing muni-meters: the centralized meters covering multiple cars that have cropped up around the city.

Despite community protests, the project is still a go. The 500 spots slated to appear this summer will include 250 meters that run along both sides of Broadway between 66th and 99th streets-but in keeping with Board 7’s requests, the signs will not appear in front of landmark buildings, mostly from 69th to 72nd streets. Additionally, 300 advertisements will premiere on Third Avenue between 72nd and 96th streets.

The Upper West Side ads will consist of paperback-sized panels owned by Snap Marketing. Park Place Media-which has run a program in Springfield, Mass., for the last three years-will post their triangular ads on the Upper East Side. Meanwhile, both companies are working to secure locations in a number of other cities across the country.

The pilot program dictates that all ads will be evaluated in terms of public perception, proper upkeep, appropriateness within the landscape and potential revenue. The banners will be removed after one year. The program, if successful, could possibly lead to an expanded city-wide campaign.

How do New Yorkers stand to benefit? A fee will go to the New York City general fund: a maximum of $90,000 during the year if the ads-which cost advertisers $150 and up per pole, per month-run at full capacity. But the prospective revenue isn’t enough to convince some. “It’s just a very dubious way to raise a very small amount of money,” board member Elizabeth Starkey told The Observer . “It makes the entire city seem to be up for sale.”

Indeed, some individuals expressed more general concerns about the project’s financial feasibility. Joshua Bocian, director of constituent services for City Councilwoman Gale Brewer (who takes a neutral position on the matter), told The Observer, “The information that we’re getting [from the D.O.T.] is that it just may not make economic sense to do this, because the amount of money that [the advertising firms] will collect just might not make it worthwhile.”

Transportation committee co-chair Andrew Albert complained at the meeting that the plan “would bring visual clutter to the Upper West Side. It’s a further commercialization of the street,” he said. He and the board voiced concerns about potential vandalism of the ads and problems with upkeep, and said they doubted that the proposed plan would effectively address these issues.

Richard Greene, vice president of business development for Snap, told The Observer that he shared the concern about keeping the city clean, but maintained that his company’s meter advertising could help achieve just that. “As long as [the ads] are kept clean and attractive,” he said, “then, personally, I would rather see some attractive communication piece on a standard gray parking-meter pole.”

Chip Fisher, a lifelong New Yorker and president of Park Place Media, agreed that phone-booth and bus-shelter advertising has become a menace. “Those things are absolutely out of control,” he told The Observer . “They’re ridiculous-especially the telephone-booth thing: It’s just exploded to the point where it’s nauseous.” Alternatively, he said, the parking-meter ads “are not offensive-they’re fun, they’re rhythmic, they can be interesting, they’re appealing to the eye. We’re open to discussing this,” Mr. Fisher added. “We want to put it in places where it’s going to be attractive. We’re not interested in saturating the whole city.”

-Benjamin Ryan

May 15: Board 8, Rockefeller University, 1230 York Avenue, Caspary Auditorium, 7 p.m., 758-4340.

May 16: Board 9, 565 West 125th Street, 6:30 p.m., 864-6200.

May 21: Board 1, St. John’s University, 101 Murray Street, auditorium, 6 p.m., 442-5050; Board 11, Thomas Jefferson Recreation Center, 2180 First Avenue, 6:30 p.m., 831-8929.