Commercialism might be creeping into community service territory as the City of Burlington looks for ways to keep its books balanced. Recently, a City sign on the lawn in front of Central Library on New Street carried an ad for Cameron Peck, a Century 21 real estate representative. The other side of the sign promoted a home repair business with a phone number to call. The ad space was purchased quite legitimately under City policy. But the policy of allowing businesses to use prime locations for public service messages is being questioned by some. Peck, who lives on Woodward Ave not far from Central Library, said he likes to use that particular sign because he targets the area in his real estate work. “That’s my market,” he said. New Street is a prime location because it is a major east-west artery through the city and. according to City figures, an average of 16,000 cars pass the library daily.
Marianne Meed Ward, councillor for Ward 2 in which Central Library is located, said the policy is something council might want to review. “The best use of that sign is to advertise public activities,” she said. “Perhaps there is another way to generate revenue and still give prominence to other events.” However, Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven favors the selling of advertising. “The City policy is to try to engage private sector investment,” he said. “A good example is the naming of the Haber Recreation Centre. This insurance company paid for the naming rights. “Our goal is to keep the tax rate low by finding alternative sources of revenue. Within reasonable bounds it is okay for the City to use these kind of facilities as revenue sources. “City bus shelters all have advertising on them.
It’s all part of the growing, changing nature of municipalities to make our money go farther. Lori Henderson, of the City’s parks and recreation department, said each side of the read-o-graph signs can be rented for $80.77 a week, tax included. Non-profit organizations also are charged, but do not have to pay tax. “We’ve always been promoting commercial activities,” she said. “It’s part of generating revenue.” What seems odd is that the library itself also must pay to rent the sign when it is right in front of the library building. Mayor Rick Goldring said he has no difficulty with the commercial messages. “Cities have to find creative ways to generate more revenue,” he said. “When there’s unused capacity on a City sign and we could use it, I think we should.” Haber Insurance is paying $1.3 million over a 20- year period for the naming rights to the new recreation centre on Dundas Street and there will be more advertising spaces sold inside the building.
Nicole Paterson, manager of marketing and communications at Central Library, said she has worked in Hamilton and Oakville previously where the practice of municipalities selling advertising space is the same as in Burlington. Paterson pointed out that even though the sign is directly in front of the library, the property actually belongs to the City The library has its own sign on the lawn about 100 feet away, but the lettering is much smaller and harder to read. Around the corner and up Drury Lane, the sign at Central Arena, once occupied with hockey game dates and times, displays information on how businesses and organizations can get their message out by advertising through City Hall. The City offers 21 locations around Burlington for Read-O-Graph signs in front of community centres, libraries, arenas and pools.