Saturday, January 19, 2008

Star Finally Reports On Death Of Billboards

The Star's Jeff Swiatek plays catch up on my previous reporting about Mayor Ballard's decision to order his corporation counsel to make sure Pinnacle Media's ten billboards are torn down as already ordered by the Marion County Environmental Court. Pinnacle Media, which sold advertising on the billboards through the end of November, claims it has no money to do it and has agreed to allow the City to use self-help to get the job done. Observers say the well-placed signs could have generated up to $2 million annually in advertising revenue for the company. Note that today's story comes a day after Advance Indiana noted a Star reader's letter to the editor complaining that the newspaper wasn't covering the story. Swiatek writes:

Ten in-your-face interstate billboards in Indianapolis that were subjects of an 8-year-old lawsuit over their legality finally will be torn down.

And the city itself may end up doing the honors because the billboard company that erected the signs has gone out of business.

“Those signs are going to come down very shortly,” Chris Cotterill, the city’s corporate counsel, said Friday.An agreement between the city and billboard owner Pinnacle Media, filed Friday in the environmental division of Marion Superior Court, gives the city the right to remove the large, free-standing signs, which sit on steel poles with the girth of century oaks.

The city sought the right to remove the signs on its own because Pinnacle hadn’t done it, despite being ordered by the court last fall to remove them, Cotterill said.

Pinnacle did remove the advertising displayed on the signs. The signs went blank in late November, said Pinnacle’s attorney, Alan S. Townsend.

But he said Pinnacle doesn’t have the money to take down the huge signs. Each costs an estimated $10,000 to tear down, Cotterill said. Pinnacle went out of business in part because of the city’s lawsuit that led to it losing the 10 choicely located billboards and the revenue they generate, Townsend said.

Losing the lawsuit was “one of the causes for them to no longer be in business,” he said.

Pinnacle had been based in Indianapolis. It now has no office or employees, Townsend said. Its managing partner who signed the agreement filed Friday with the city is Randy Chirico, who Townsend said is an Illinois businessman.

Pinnacle had contracted with another billboard company to sell advertising on the signs and maintain them, Townsend said. He said he couldn’t comment on what happened to the ad revenue Pinnacle stood to collect from the signs during the 11 months last year that they were rented.

The agreement gives the city the right to bill Pinnacle for the cost of tearing down the signs.

But Pinnacle doesn’t have the money to pay for the tear-down, so “we’re working with the city … to find a buyer for the signs” that will be allowed to keep the signs if it removes them, Townsend said.

Cotterill said, “We’re looking to find a no-cost option to remove them … so the taxpayer doesn’t have to pay $1.”

He said Mayor Greg Ballard, who took office this month, ordered the city’s legal staff to push Pinnacle to remove the billboards. “He took a keen interest in this,” Cotterill said . . .

“We are certainly disappointed with the result” of the lawsuit, Townsend
said. “Pinnacle handled every aspect of building and constructing these signs in
the right way.”

Norm Pace of the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations, which
had fought to get the billboards removed because it deems them unsightly, said
the impending tear-down is grounds for celebration.

“We will be there to toast with a glass of milk these signs coming down,”
Pace said.

As Advance Indiana previously reported, two out-of-state billboard companies have offered to remove the signs free of charge to the City as long as they are permitted to retain ownership of the signage materials. Pinnacle's suggestion that it had no resources to get the job done simply rings hollow to those who have been fighting for their removal all these years. Pinnacle sold its assets to Lamar in 2004 for over $10 million, but Pinnacle retained ownership of the disputed Indianapolis signs while the company continued to fight it out with the City over their legality. Persons close to the dispute say Pinnacle contracted with Lamar to maintain the signs and sell advertising following the sale.


Bart Lies said...

Clearly a legal manuver to isolate Lamar from picking up the tab for removal, and for giving Pinnacle some protection by transferring all it's assets to Lamar EXCEPT the 10 signs. But where'd the $10 MIL go? Legal fees, I suppose.

How bullheaded and stupid can a corporation be, that it pours 8 years of legal fees into a fight, when they could have spent 10x $10,000 to relocate the signs elsewhere?

Gary R. Welsh said...

"How bullheaded and stupid can a corporation be, that it pours 8 years of legal fees into a fight, when they could have spent 10x $10,000 to relocate the signs elsewhere?"

A very smart business would that's who. The company continued to collect advertising revenues all these years, which may have approximated $2 million a year. Over 8 years, thad adds up to $16 million. The legal fees would have been chump change to these guys.

Anonymous said...

Where are these signs?

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to the Ballard administration for not dropping the ball on this!

Gary R. Welsh said...

They are along the interstates inside the I-465 loop.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to the Peterson administration for dogging this company until they were forced to surrender their attempt to clutter our cityscape.

Anonymous said...

This company was allegedly put together as an LLC by noted zoning attorney Phillip Nicely.

They won two rounds of court battles, but each victory was flimsy. It didn't take a legal genius to figure out the city's signage ordinance would be upheld at some time.

As the case unfolded, millions in ad revenue came and went through Nicely's pocket.

I'd send him the bill. I know, LLCs are supposed to shield individuals from liability.

But this guy had balls the size of Florida. Someone oughta rattle his cage, at least.

Anonymous said...

anyone who has dealt with Nicely knows he is a jerk...ask any number of neighborhood associations terrorized by he and his clients over the years

Anonymous said...

How much did the Port Authority (controlled by Hamilton County, Fishers, and Noblesville) make in ground rent? And who is on their board?

Anonymous said...

Phil Nicely is a gasbag.

Now, he's a rich one. He effectively told the city:

Nanna nanno boo-boo.

Anonymous said...

What a lot of wasted hot air over a non-issue. Let the City inherit the billboards, let them stay put, and earn the city $2 million a year.