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Councillors scrap proposal for trash-can advertising in city parks

We're exposed to billboards and other advertising messages throughout the City of Sault Ste. Marie. Do we also need to see ads in our parks?
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A hard push by Ward 3 Coun. Matthew Shoemaker to increase advertising in city parks got tossed by City Council this week.

In 2017, Shoemaker persuaded his fellow councillors to support a resolution calling for consideration for paid ads on park benches, trash/recycling bins, bus stops and other city-owned permanent structures and objects.

"The City of Sault Ste. Marie must look at every opportunity to generate new revenues to offset future municipal tax increases," the councillor said then.

This week, in response to the 2017 Shoemaker resolution, city staff advised continuing a current policy prohibiting ads in city parks or on transit shelters or benches.

Here are five suggestions staff did make for increasing ad revenues:

  • once the old clock from the GFL Memorial Gardens is decommissioned, confirm redeployment of screen(s) is possible to the John Rhodes Community Centre and sell advertising accordingly
  • transit services to explore on-demand transit app powered by VIA and mobile payment parking app powered by Passport for advertising options. Transit services will draft a policy for review prior to implementation and utilize the bus fleet advertisement arrangement as a guide
  • implement wall advertising at the Northern Community Centre (specific areas will be designated)
  • expand the commemorative bench program to include covered picnic tables and trees (policy will be developed and reviewed prior to implementation)
  • review implementation of a flowerbed sponsorship program (revenue generating through user fees to be proposed in 2020) with appropriate recognition

The city's public works department pointed out that most benches in city parks don't have backs to advertise on, eliminating them from consideration as prospective cash cows.

But Shoemaker seemed particularly attracted to trash-can adverts, pointing at Monday's City Council meeting to photographs in a staff report showing ads on Sudbury garbage/recycling bins.

"There are these garbage cans that you can see in the picture with advertising possibilities on them. I note that they are the same kinds of garbage cans that you see at city parks and other things around the community," the councillor said.

"Your recommendation was not to allow advertising in city parks. But if we've got these cans there, they look pretty uninvasive, in my opinion, compared to the other ads that you can see."

"It seems like an easy way to generate some kind of small amount of revenue from advertising on garbage cans such as these," Shoemaker told the meeting.

"Historically the city has been very restrictive in parks locations and have only allowed the commemorative bench program," said a written statement from the city's parks and recreation staff. "This is reflective of what is in practice in the five other municipalities that were contacted."

"Parks are a tangible reflection of the quality of life in a community and provide places for families and social groups to gather and play. They are designed for individuals of all ages and economic status, regardless of their ability to pay for access."

"Nature-based recreation fosters a better understanding and appreciation for all aspects of nature. Introduction of advertising signage into these spaces may affect tthe natural feel of space and intended experience of the user," the staff statement said.

When city staff went looking for opportunities to raise ad revenues, garbage cans got very little consideration.

"We were looking at the bigger aspects from some of the bus shelters and the benches," said Brent Lamming, the city's director of community services for community development  and enterprise services.

Advertising on transit shelters and benches could bring in between $2,000 and $10,000 a year, Lamming said.

That's way more than anyone could expect from garbage containers.

Still, Shoemaker continued pressing the case for garbage cans.

"It is an opportunity, even if it's minimal revenue. Every little bit counts," he said. 

In the end, city councillors agreed to trash-bag Shoemaker's vision of dancing ad sugarplums and instead accepted the staff recommendation for parks unsoiled by marketing.

David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans six decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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