Council bill would allow digital signs on newsstands

Posted: September 28, 2012

PHILADELPHIA'S a no-neon city, but could bright digital ads on newsstands add a little pizzazz?

City Councilman Bill Greenlee introduced a bill Thursday that would allow newsstands to have large and now digital advertising and wall-wrap advertising. The newsstands that take advantage of the change would pay an additional 7 percent tax.

"The purpose of the bill is to allow them more space to have bigger and better and more-revenue-generating advertising on a newsstand," Greenlee said. "It also enlivens the environment, which is key in the city."

Mary Tracy, of Scenic Philadelphia (formerly SCRUB), an anti-blight organization that opposes outdoor advertising, said digital ads are a "terrible idea" that could distract drivers and cause accidents.

"Is it worth risking people's lives making the city more tacky?" Tracy asked, adding that the bill likely violates federal law.

Satish Vadher, 56, who operates a newsstand on Market Street just across from City Hall, could use the extra money. He said sales have been down.

"We are making less money," he said, adding he has three children, including two in college. "That impacts everything."

Meanwhile, City Councilman Mark Squilla proposed a change to the city charter that would give Council a say over how 10 percent of the operating budget is spent.

Squilla said the idea came after discussions with the Nutter administration about a bill he introduced that would have increased the fee on parking tickets to generate $4 million for recreation centers and a division of the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Nutter quashed that bill this month, saying it violated city and state law.

"We're not going to take over the whole budget process," Squilla said. "It's a strong mayoral form of government and [the mayor] has the ability to dictate most of where the money goes, but this just gives us a small percentage of the money that we could be moving."

Mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said the administration would comment at a hearing on the bill.

Currently, the mayor creates the financial plan, which outlines how the administration would like to spend money. Council votes on the mayor's budget after making changes, but the mayor then has to approve it.

Under the bill, Squilla said, Council could direct money to specific departments such as Licenses & Inspections to hire more inspectors. Council would have authority over how hundreds of millions of dollars are spent. If Council approves Squilla's bill, voters will decide whether to put it into effect.

Contact Jan Ransom at or 215-854-5218. Follow her on Twitter @Jan_Ransom.

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