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May 02

Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign

Comments (0) 11:59 PM posted by admin |

Everyone knows that Ypsilanti is a “Cool City.”

We even have the banners to prove it.

There’s currently a movement taking shape that would like you to believe that it is cucumbers that keep Ypsilanti cool.

But, all of those people are wrong. Just ask Ted Coutilish.

Mr. Coutilish, vice-president of Marketing and Communications at Eastern Michigan University, would like you to believe that what really could make us cool would be a giant, seventy-five foot tall billboard with a forty-eight foot wide plasma screen located on the exit ramp at the Huron Street exit off of I-94. This proposed billboard would blast advertising twenty-four hours a day encouraging motorists to do what all highway billboard signs do — buy someone else’s products.

The difference with Ypsilanti’s proposed sign is that for eight seconds, every fifth message would either belong to EMU, the Chamber of Commerce / the Ypsilanti Visitor’s and Convention Bureau, or the City. Per Mr. Coutilish, this would amount to the equivalent of five consecutive months of Ypsi-centric advertisements worth $270K (or $90K each for the three parties involved).

Let’s take a step back and try and better understand this situation.

In 1985, the City entered into an agreement with the Convention Bureau and EMU (the “lessee”) wherein for ten years they would rent the property from the City (the “lessor”) for $1 per year and erect the sign that everyone is so familar with. The lease was never renewed in 1995, but the two organizations continued to make use of it, but apparently failed to maintain it. The two organizations want a new sign, but have no money to pay for it, thus the creative plasma screen scheme.

The shocking thing in all of this is that the City still owns the property (the “asset”). A business proposition is being brought to us to use our asset to the benefit of two third parties.


You heard that right. EMU has figured out a way to get free advertising and a new sign, and the only thing they have to do is convince the City this is in our best interest to give away $180K in theoretical ad revenue for the pleasure.


I’m serious. Not only would the sign require zoning variances for being too tall and too large, it would require a change to the zoning ordinance that would allow animated signs. So not only would the City have to provide its land free of charge and give up two-thirds of the theoretical advertising, the City would have to dedicate staff resources to hammer out the zoning issues. Add this to the fact that no one has even approached the Bell-Casler Neighborhood and ask their thoughts on the prospect of having such a feature in their backyards.

If we want to get into the business of advertising (and maybe we do), we should control it 100 percent. If we wish to enter into an agreement with a company like Adams Outdoor or CBS Outdoor, then they need to pay us and only us. If EMU or the Convention Bureau or Pub 13 or The Sidetrack or Aubree’s or Haab’s want to advertise there, I’m sure one of those two companies would gladly take their money and provide them space.

As a brief bit of trivia, Karl Barr from the City Attorney’s office mentioned that during the acquisition of the Water Street property, the City had to pay $118K to the advertising companies in order to buy out the long-term leases on two billboards on top of the old auto parts building. All that means is that there is money to made–even more when the billboard sees high-volume traffic.

I certainly want to work well with EMU and I certainly want the Convention Bureau promoting the happenings in our City, but in these uncertain financial times, we can’t subsidize everyone. I want to see the City subsidize the AATA. I want to see the City subsidize Rutherford Pool. I want to see the City subsidize Parkridge Community Center. We just can’t afford to subsize colleges and marketing organizations.

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