Mural law violators on short end of airport advertising contract
By Ted Carter
Miami-Dade commissioners promised billboard advertising companies last spring they would suffer consequences for erecting illegal murals on the sides of buildings. They kept their promise Tuesday by making it unlikely violators of the mural law will qualify for a multi-million dollar annual contract to provide stationary commercial advertising signs at Miami International Airport.
The nearly three dozen billboard advertising companies that have been cited by Miami-Dade code enforcement officers for illegal signs will be asked to include that information in any responses to a Request for Proposals the county will soon issue. The company selected will finance, design, install and maintain static advertising displays at the airport.
Aviation Department officials say they want a "comprehensive, successful, dynamic, creative and profitable advertising display program at MIA."
But they don't want scofflaws, commissioners say. "If they are violating the sign codes, I want to know," Commissioner Katy Sorenson said.
Under terms agreed to by commissioners, any advertising sign company cited by the county's Team Metro will have to disclose the citation. The county, in turn, "will consider" a violation disclosure when evaluating a company's response, commissioners agreed.
Ms. Sorenson wanted to include citations issued by any of the county's municipalities. She dropped that idea after some commissioners said it would be difficult to monitor citations issued by the county's many municipalities.
Intrusion on municipal authority was also an issue. "We should not get involved in municipal jurisdictions," Commissioner Rebeca Sosa said.
However, citations issued for illegal wall murals or other signs within Miami's city limits have to be disclosed. The county has enforcement authority there because of the "unique aesthetic" character of downtown, the county's legal staff says.
Team Metro officials said that as of Tuesday, they had 36 enforcement cases within Miami city limits. They also have issued 36 warning notices and 20 citations. Fifteen cases are pending, Team Metro says. Fine collections since enactment of the sign ordinance in early summer total $1,050, Team Metro says.
The county ordinance outlawed all current wall murals in downtown Miami and set fines of $1,000 a day for each violation. Commissioners agreed to allow 30 signs but left it up to Miami city commissioners to decide how permits would be issued.
City officials say it will be late November at the earliest before they take up the issue. They had expected to act on a staff-drafted ordinance shortly after Labor Day, but Commissioner Marc Sarnoff insisted on introducing a more stringent one of his own. He now says he is too busy with his re-election campaign to work further on the measure, which in its initial form called for limiting the sign permits to 15.
It's unclear what method will be used to determine which companies get the sign permits. A lottery has been suggested.
United Kingdom-based JCDecaux Airport Inc. has had the Miami International Airport static advertising contract since 1994, undergoing a series of four-year renewals. Under the current agreement, the Aviation Department owns all the adverting displays and allows JCDecaux to sell advertising to third parties.
The new proposal to be issued by the county specifies that the selected company must provide all displays, a cost now covered by the airport. That provision led commissioners to lower the minimum payment to the county to $3 million from $3.75 million and to split gross revenues beyond the $3 million evenly. The current contract gives JCDecaux 40% of gross revenue after a $3.6 million annual payment to the county.
While the airport has set the floor of $3 million annual revenue generated, advertising sales could generate as much as $10 million a year, said Miguel Southwell, assistant director of business retention and development at Miami-Dade Aviation Department.
Mr. Southwell said the department wanted to gauge any new interest in taking over the advertising contract.
"The old agreement had been in place for 14 years and it had expired, so we felt it was time to open up the opportunity to everyone, including the incumbent," he said in an interview Tuesday.
"The old agreement covered advertising, while this one will cover advertising and sponsorships. For example, a manufacturer of television sets may want to sponsor the monitors in the terminals."
Miami's advertising program is based on a highly successful one at Los Angeles International Airport.
Staff writer Wayne Tompkins contributed to this report.