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2013 budget takes more cautious approach to ads on city assets

Updated: October 17, 2012 8:48AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2012 budget made a giant assumption that has yet to materialize: $25 million in revenues from “municipal marketing” and sponsorship deals that turn city assets into money-makers.

On Tuesday, Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott explained why.

“In 2012, we will not meet the goal you have set for us because we felt it was appropriate to take just a little bit more time to make sure that we get it right with the aesthetics that the city of Chicago really demands,” Scott told the City Council’s Budget Committee on the first day of hearings on Emanuel’s 2013 budget.

The new budget counts on a more modest — and hopefully attainable — $18 million in municipal marketing revenues. Without revealing specifics, Scott said she has been “extremely busy” putting together sponsorship deals.

After the hearing, Scott said she is “getting close” to presenting specific sponsorship deals.

“To do it right, we felt we needed a little bit more time. ... We’ll be presenting some ideas for consideration by the [advisory] council. ... They’re not quite ready for prime-time, but they will be shortly,” she said.

“We outlined ... a very extensive framework of how the work will be done and how we’ll evaluate programs,” Scott said. “The advisory panel has given a report to us. So, a tremendous amount of work has been done. We need to kind of pull it all together, present it to the aldermen and council and make decisions on how to proceed.”

In the past, she has suggested slapping advertising on the 4,700 pay-and-display boxes that replaced Chicago parking meters as well as on downtown solar trash compactors and electric light boxes that operate streetlights.

Earlier this year, Emanuel took a beating for wrapping the Wabash Avenue bridge house in a temporary Bank of America ad that architecture critics considered cheesy.

The mayor responded to that criticism by appointing an eight-member panel of experts to pass judgment on specific sponsorship deals.

“The signage placed on the bridge house draped around — that’s the kind of thing they don’t want to do,” advisory council member Lee Bey, former architecture critic at the Chicago Sun-Times, said at the time.

“It marketed a city asset, but didn’t do it in a way that contributed or enhanced that asset. It rather took away from it. The task here is to make sure that kind of thing doesn’t happen again.”

Bey pointed to the bus shelters and kiosks on Michigan Avenue as an example of the appropriate balance between advertising and aesthetics.

“You can put an ad where people gather and there are a lot of eyeballs around and make sure it’s done to an architectural standard and doesn’t ruin or detract from views of the city. There’s a bit of a model that’s already here,” he said.

“Let’s take that and see what we can add to it in way that doesn’t spoil or cheapen the city. It doesn’t have to be an either-or situation.”

In 2005, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley asked a consultant to draft a game plan for “municipal marketing,” including the potentially lucrative idea of selling naming rights to the Chicago Skyway.

Five years later, Daley tried to launch the program by turning bridge houses along the Chicago River over to private companies during major holidays to decorate and display their corporate monikers.

None of it ever happened.

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