‘Fight to the death’ threatened in Chestnut Hill to stop ads on city’s rec centers and libraries

Two companies have applied to lead Philadelphia’s first-ever Municipal Advertising Program.


A regional outfit and a national advertiser submitted proposals to the city’s Managing Director’s Office before last Thursday’s deadline. Their identities have not yet been made public.

If one — or both — is the right suitor, hundreds of public vehicles, recreation centers and libraries could become pieces of a “pilot” program aimed at creating a new and ongoing revenue stream for the city’s coffers.

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“We’re kind of breaking new ground,” said Managing Director Richard Negrin. “It’s still kind of an open question about whether municipal advertising can work.”

What it’s all about

Nearly 5,000 city vehicles and 200 city buildings could soon feature some form of advertising, including wall wraps, projected images or kiosks.

Traditional billboards are not part of the program.

It’s hoped the effort, launched from City Council legislation, can add up to $2 million to Philadelphia’s General Fund over the next few years.

The city’s annual budget hovers around $4 billion.

“I don’t think this is the answer to the city’s financial problems,” said Negrin.

Residents not sold on program

The new program may not sit well with more than a couple residents, including those that live in Northwest Philadelphia.

A total of 20 libraries and recreation centers are on the program’s list of properties.

Chestnut Hill resident Joanne Dhody called the concept “insane” and “ridiculous.”

In her neighborhood, advertisements could adorn or appear inside the Chestnut Hill Library or the Water Tower Recreation Center.

“I can’t imagine how they do it without offending someone and without adding more distractions to our lives,” said Dhody, president of the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library.

Chestnut Hill residents have a reputation for standing their ground when it comes to neighborhood aesthetics.

Several years ago, for example, some residents strongly opposed the use of outdoor sandwich-signs along Germantown Avenue, the neighborhood’s main commercial corridor.

Dhody can easily envision a full-blown “battle” if advertisers end up approaching the community with plans for the library or Water Tower.

“It’s going to be a fight to the death,” she said. “There won’t be any sympathy [for the city].”

Germantown uneasy, too

Germantown resident Greg Paulmier will also put up a stink if advertisers come knocking on the door of the Wissahickon Boys & Girls Club, where he’s been a member since he was 12 years old.

The life-long resident simply can’t fathom the historic building on Coulter Street featuring any kind of advertisements.

Most of all, he’s concerned that glossy images of fattening foods will become part of the neighborhood landscape.

“[Kids] are already manipulated in so many ways with television and the internet,” said Paulmier. “To further misdirect them and mislead them by using property to do it is [wrong].”

Germantown, he added, is “not a place that can afford to pollute the environment if we can help it.”

Program specifics

Under the program, there are some restrictions on content.

No advertisements for alcohol, firearms or tobacco will be permitted.

Issue or politically themed content is also off-limits as is anything pornographic, false, or misleading.

Negrin said he fully expects pushback from some residents, but noted that it’s too early for “histrionics.”

“We’re not talking about turning Philadelphia into a big neon sign,” said Negrin.

The program does have a public-comment process.

City officials are expected to reach a decision in a month or two. It could chose one or both companies or decide that neither candidate is a good match.

If the city awards a one-year contract, advertisements could start being installed in the fall.

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