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City Council Committee Approves 3D Electronic Billboards In Center City

By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A city council committee has given the go-ahead to allowing massive, 3-D electronic billboards within a small portion of Center City, despite the objection of some residents.

A Malvern company called Catalyst Outdoors wants to construct three electronic advertising structures in Center City, ranging in height from about 30-50 feet.

The firm's founder, Thadeus Bartkowski, pitched the idea to a City Council committee.

Bartkowski says, "It's about creating a multi-faceted communication platform, that's able to add vibrancy in unique commercial corridors."

Bartkowski proposes three locations -- outside the Convention Center, across from the Reading Terminal Market, and on the facade of the Bellevue Hotel garage on South Broad Street.

He says 70-percent of the content displayed would be ads, the rest would be PSAs and other material -- including promotions for local non-profits: "What's trying to be created here is a pedestrian-viewer experience, not just a simple single form of technology."

3d billboards bartkowski Catalyst Outdoors 16x9
A city council committee discusses allowing 3D electronic billboards in Center City. (Credit: Mike Dunn)

The city's Planning Commission voted against the idea last week and at the council hearing, the President of the Center City Residents Association, Jeff Branff, said his group opposes it as well, because the signage is so large:

"58 feet of commercial advertising in your face is very different from what we have (now) at the Kimmel Center," says Branff. "It doesn't have to be so gargantuan and in your face."

Catalyst Outdoor calls the structures "Urban Experiential Displays" or UEDs, but Branff of the CCRA told council members not to be fooled by the fancy name.

Branf says,"At the end of the day, folks, these are giant commercial billboards."

The committee members approved the proposal unanimously, in no small part because it is supported by the Avenue of the Arts, the Convention Center and the Reading Terminal Market.

Convention Center President John McNichol candidly admitted that the current Broad Street entrance of the Center lacks pizzazz, and he believes this electronic sculpture would add that.

"Just imagine how much more electric the front of the building would be than it is," says McNichol. "We (now) have an LED curtain wall that can give you some nice lighting and different treatments, but nothing would pop like this would pop."

Paul Beideman, president of the Avenue of the Arts organization, said his group is among a few non-profits that would receive funding from the signage, as well as promotion.

"The funds that have been committed to the Avenue of the Arts organization to help support the public environment is a game-changer," says Beidman.

Beideman disputed the notion that these signs will make Broad Street garish: "The checks and balances that are being put into place by Council will assure that this thing is done with the highest level of quality."

The bill now goes to the full Council for a vote.

The measure, though, only calls for a zoning change to permit such displays.

Council would have to also approve each individual installation, as would PennDOT, since Market and Broad Streets are state highways.

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