SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 3, 2014

Peabody mayor extends deadline for billboard leases

By Alan Burke
Staff Writer

---- — PEABODY — Mayor Ted Bettencourt is extending the period for companies to submit proposals on leasing two plots of city land along Route 128 in order to construct billboards.

A previous deadline, which expired on Thursday, drew only one applicant, a company called Ion the Ball. The new deadline is March 14. No figure was mentioned as part of the Ion proposal, the mayor said, but he has suggested that a lease could result in a payment for the city totaling as much as $700,000.

The price of the lease, the mayor explained, would be settled in negotiations between the various companies making proposals. The period allowed for responses to the January request for proposals, or RFP, might not have been enough notice for companies in the billboard business, the mayor explained. “We’ve had a number of companies call over the past week,” he said.

For example, on Jan. 23, the night Bettencourt won approval from the City Council on his plan to lease the land, a representative of a company called CBS Interactive, in City Hall on other business, hurried to the mayor’s office inquiring how CBS might also make a proposal.

“Now that we’ve obtained approval from the City Council,” Bettencourt said, “that has generated additional interest.”

The fact that only one company responded to the initial RFP would have left the city leasing only one site. The RFP allows applicants to make proposals on both, but the terms require that only one be awarded per customer, according to city Purchasing Agent Dan Doucette. “With one respondent,” he said, “it takes away the possibility of the city leasing both.”

Despite widespread opposition to billboards in general, the mayor’s plan to put the city itself in the billboard business won overwhelming approval from the City Council by a 9 to 1 vote. Outspoken in opposition, Councilor Anne Manning-Martin predicted a furious public reaction and has asked for a reconsideration of the vote at the council’s Feb. 6 meeting.

Manning-Martin believes that once councilors have had time to think on the issue, and once they begin hearing from constituents, they will have a change of heart.

Speaking of the new deadline, however, council President Bob Driscoll said, “It sounds like a good idea to me. It’s a good alternative source of revenue.”

For his part, the mayor remains confident of council support even as he extends the deadline. “It’s hard to vote against this type of revenue stream,” he said. “I think the council have made their feelings on this pretty clear.”

Under the plan, one billboard would go on Route 128 near the exit to Route 1, while the other would be placed near the Fishery Products International building.

Staff writer Alan Burke can be reached at aburke@salemnews.com.