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Council OKs Electric Factory billboard bill, skateboarder bill

The Electric Factory may soon have a flashy billboard.

City Council passed Thursday a controversial bill sponsored by Councilman Mark Squilla that would allow for a digital billboard on the building at 7th and Callowhill streets, near the Vine Street Expressway. Some of the revenue generated from the billboard would go toward programs at three nearby schools as part of a community-benefits agreement.

The bill passed 16-1, with Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. voting against it.

Several community groups argued that the bill would change the character of the neighborhood, but representatives from the schools that would receive the money said it would go a long way to restore core educational programs.

If this debate seems somewhat familiar that's because it is.

Former Councilman Frank DiCicco tried to place a wall-wrap billboard on the same building. Nutter squashed that bill, and said it would violate federal and state laws because it was within 600 feet of a highway and could lead to a 10-percent reduction in federal funding. Nutter will likely veto the bill again, in which Council would need 12 votes to override a veto.

Myron Berman, the building's owner, took the fight to court after he was cited for erecting illegal wall-wrap signs 13 years ago.

Under the Squilla proposal, 20 percent of the revenues would be used to create the Center City North Improvement Fund, said consultant Jeff Hornstein. Hornstein said that the billboard would generate roughly $2.5 million annually, of which the fund would get $500,000, with 75 percent divided evenly among Home & School Associations at Spring Garden, Kearny and McCall elementary schools. The remaining 25 percent would be split among civic associations.

Council also approved a bill sponsored by Councilman David Oh on behalf of the Nutter administration that would expand the city's ban and up the penalties on skateboarding, biking and rollerblading to include public property like areas around the Municipal Services Building, City Hall and LOVE Park.

The bill passed 12-4 with Council members Goode, Cindy Bass, Jannie Blackwell and Kenyatta Johnson voted against the bill. Councilman Jim Kenney was not present for the vote.

Under the measure violators could be fined $1,000 and serve 30 days in jail. A group of skateboarders returned to Council Thursday and said that the bill with its changes was much better but still the penalties are too harsh.