Miami murals to make comeback in urban core, 35 permits issued via raffle
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
The eye-popping building mural displays taken down in Miami's urban core are making a comeback — soon.
Ten outdoor advertising companies received the 35 mural permits that newly-crafted city law allotted.
After an ongoing debate over the permits, the City of Miami finally raffled the 35 highly-coveted site locations it approved earlier this year.
All 10 companies that received rights to the outdoor advertisement sites are required to apply for Class I permits.
Once the city approves and reviews the permits, the murals can go back up, said Pieter Bockweg, project manager of building, planning and zoning.
Lottery winners included Fuel Outdoor, Submedia LLC, Van Wagner Communications and Trilogic Outdoor.
Trilogic Outdoor, a Mexico-based advertising company with offices in Miami, obtained the most permits, five in three different districts. It hopes to start displaying its ad murals within 30 to 60 days.
The mural lottery application fee was $10,000 for non-violators and $30,000 for applicants with prior building mural violations, Mr. Bockweg said. All entrants also paid a nonrefundable $500 administrative fee.
Applicants were asked to submit at least five leases of proposed sites for the lottery, but it took several rounds to fill the 35 spots, Mr. Bockweg said.
The city offered to refund $10,000 to any applicant that didn't receive mural sites, but that wasn't the case. The city got to pocket all participant fees as every entrant received at least one mural location.
But the cashing-in continues. The ad companies now have to pay an upfront, annual fee that breaks down to at least $4,000 a month, because the city is charging $1 per square foot a mural covers, with a cap at 10,000 square feet.
The violation fine for companies placing murals on walls of unapproved sites also increased from $250 to $1,000 a day.
While the location permits give advertisers rights to the location for the next year, every time the ad's content changes the company must apply for an ad permit, which takes up to 10 days to be issued, said Alberto Garcia, vice president of real estate at Trilogic Outdoor.
Mr. García's client portfolio includes Heineken beer, Wachovia Bank and Verizon Wireless. Every time the company wants to place a new advertisement on the building for one of its brand-name customers it must pay for a new ad permit.
Under this temporary law, advertising companies must pay in advance for the full year. For some, this upfront condition is a gamble because they will need to sell at least 80% of the leased space in order to make a profit, Mr. Garcia said.
"If I don't sell more than 70% or 80% of space I won't get my money back," he said.
While many US cities charge a one-time fee for outdoor ads, Miami's pilot program collects a year's worth of fees without giving advertisers any guarantee of the ordinance's future, he said.
Trilogic is paying $270,000 for its five mural permits, $48,000 for the least expensive and $71,000 for the priciest.
"This is indeed the most expensive of any ordinance in the US," he said.
The city's earnings from issued permits and cashed fines go toward "promoting quality of life and regulating visual blight," Mr. Bockweg said.
City and county officials have estimated that on average companies can charge advertisers about $30,000 a month for mural-type locations.
But the amount property owners who lease the building space get from the deal varies.
Mr. Garcia said his company negotiated its lease contracts with building owners at no more than 50% of ad revenue. Otherwise, he said, he would lose money.
Mr. Garcia said some locations go for as low as $20,000 a month and that more highly trafficked locations can go for more than $30,000.
Before the new arrangement, the signs were illegal because the city's code enforcement did not include the term "murals," leaving the department to freely fine outdoor advertisers for sign violations.
"The city was getting plastered with illegal murals. We felt an ordinance would have control of where and for how long murals were placed," Mr. Bockweg said.
Under the new code, a mural is defined as "a painting or artist work composed of pictures or color that may have limited sponsorship and is projected on to a building or a wall" as off-site advertisement, meaning the advertisement is not for the building where it is displayed.
The law's mural size and distance requirements call for the artworks to be 300 feet apart, not directly facing residential units. Up to 20 murals are allowed in one city commission district, Mr. Bockweg said. The entertainment district is the only area exempt from the 300-foot distance requirement.
Also, murals cannot cover more than 80% of a blank wall or 33% of a wall with windows, he said.
Within the county-approved boundaries, the areas awarded the most murals were the entertainment district, the health district and Flagler Street.
The county approved the two-year pilot program in June 2007; it sunsets in June 2009. But since it took the city about a year to decide on a complementing law, after reviewing two proposals, the law expires next summer.
The county's mural law originally allowed for the placement of up to 45 artistic advertisements within Miami's boundaries, leaving it up to the city to tweak its own ordinance. The city capped its mural permits at 35, prompting the county at its July 1 commission meeting to amend its law down to 35 permits.
After June 2009, the city is to present the county with a report that evaluates the results of the pilot program.
If the city estimates that the ordinance proved effective, it could request, among other things, an extension of the program, the boundaries and the number of permits, Mr. Bockweg said.
No legal murals are up today because all murals within the applicable boundaries were removed effective April 20 for a minimum of 45 days.
But as advertisers get permits approved, murals are to be back up within months.
Ordinance compliance is now easier for code enforcement, said Mariano Loret de Mola, Miami's code enforcement director.
"With only 35 places allowed, everything else is in violation so is easier to monitor the whole thing," he said. "Any company that doesn't have a permit or is not displaying the advertisement in accordance with the regulation is in violation."
Mr. Garcia and other advertisers hope the ordinance proves successful. Otherwise, the advertising sector is the loser, he said.
"We don't want to be here making money for the city," Mr. Garcia said, "without making any money for the companies."