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March 29, 2014

Peabody council's billboard issues continue as outside interest in leases rises

PEABODY — City councilors may not like the proliferation of billboards across the city, but a half-million in new revenue from one city-owned highway plot is no doubt enticing.

City officials confirmed a proposal has come in from a Connecticut firm called Ion the Ball to lease land off Route 128 next to Fishery Products International and erect a digital billboard. The city put out a request for bids after the City Council authorized the mayor to seek lease agreements on two city-owned parcels in January.

According to City Solicitor Michael Smerczynski, the company is offering to prepay the first two years’ rent — $500,000 — and contribute a “bonus” $50,000 once the board is energized, in addition to paying city permit fees. The offer is conditional, however, upon the company actually receiving the necessary permits.

The annual lease fee is proposed as $250,000 or 33 percent of the revenue generated from advertising sales, whichever is greater.

Mayor Ted Bettencourt said Friday the city is “very interested” in the proposal and has reached out to the firm to begin negotiations and draft a special permit petition that will need approval from the City Council.

Bettencourt said no proposals have come in yet on the second site he hopes to lease, 3 Newbury St., in front of the Holiday Inn on Route 1, but he has received some phone calls indicating possible interest.

The City Council will field a few more billboard applications in the weeks to come, as well as try anew to impose a moratorium on future billboards. Councilors will look at making zoning changes and seek a recommendation from the Planning Board.

But that’s not all. The city also heads back to court over the now infamous Lowell Street billboard structure, where a 92-foot pole is attached to the side of the building at 532 Lowell St. in full view of the neighborhood.

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