Bus riders won’t be left standing after all.
Spokane Mayor Mary Verner relented this week in her demand for all bus benches with ads to be removed by next Tuesday.
Verner gave the removal order last month in an effort to comply with a previously ignored 2001 sign ordinance that outlawed ads on bus benches. Since then, however, the Spokane Transit Authority refused to buy replacement benches, and the Spokane City Council changed its sign law to allow the ads.
Still, the mayor and others continued to argue as late as last week that the order be kept so the city could request bids on a new bench program without any company having a perceived advantage.
The direction shifted Tuesday, however, when administrators reached an agreement with Sunset Outdoor Advertising, the company that maintains most of the benches, allowing them to keep some seats while a new contract goes out to bid. The city has been fighting with Sunset, which also goes by the name Emerald Outdoor, for more than a year because Sunset no longer has a contract to place benches in the right of way.
Marlene Feist, city spokeswoman, said the agreement allows Sunset to keep seats at the 100 stops where STA had planned to place benches before the agency’s board balked at buying the new seats. Benches at other locations still must be removed by Tuesday’s deadline.
City attorneys “found a way to do it without extending the contractual relationship,” Feist said.
Sunset Manager Tom Townsend said the company will abide by the agreement.
“I’m going to work within the parameters that the city and STA have established,” Townsend said.
Sunset is owned by businessman Thomas Hamilton and developer Harlan Douglass.
Public Works Director Dave Mandyke said Tuesday that the city will start soliciting bench proposals from ad companies as early as this week. A draft of the proposed guidelines says ads would be allowed to be 8 feet wide. That’s even bigger than the ads are on Sunset’s existing benches, which are closer to 6 feet wide. The draft would require new benches to have arms in the middle.
The guidelines, which are based on Los Angeles’ bench rules, also create more stringent maintenance stipulations. New benches would have to display a phone number so riders could report graffiti or broken equipment, and problems would have to be fixed within a day of being reported. The proposed five-year contract also would require the winning bidder to remove snow from the benches.
Councilman Richard Rush has argued that current bench ads hurt the aesthetics of the cityscape. That may not change under the new contract because the process has been hurried, Rush said Tuesday.
“That’s my concern, that there’s not going to be the due-diligence on what we would have done on the size and prominence of advertising,” Rush said.
Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin said the long and passionate debate about benches likely will give the community a better bench program.
“We have the opportunity to improve and update what they look like and still have them paid through advertising,” McLaughlin said.
Verner has appointed a committee that will review bench bids. In an interview last week, Verner said in the long term she hopes to generate interest among other cities and the STA board for the bus agency to take responsibility over benches throughout STA’s service area.
“I still don’t want to be in the bus bench business,” she said.
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