The number of towering digital billboards that could soon light up Center City is down from three to two.
City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson pulled his support from the bill, which would have put one of the "urban experiential displays" in his district, on the garage of the Hyatt at the Bellevue at Broad and Locust Streets.
Councilman Mark Squilla, who introduced the bill, added an amendment at Thursday's weekly Council meeting removing the Center City portion of Johnson's district from the list of places zoned for the high-tech billboards.
Squilla vowed to push ahead with the bill, which comes up for final passage next week. It would allow for displays at Broad and Race Streets, near the Convention Center, and at 12th and Arch Streets, near Reading Terminal Market.
"The support far outweighs the negative comments," Squilla said following the meeting, in which three members of the public criticized the legislation. "They believe it's a great idea to make the area more vibrant and to improve and maintain the Avenue of the Arts in a city that doesn't have many resources."
Johnson's office, on the other hand, heard from enough Center City residents that he decided against allowing a billboard in his district.
"When this legislation was first proposed, I was open to the idea, because the businesses on the Avenue of the Arts supported it as a way to fund improvements and activities" there, Johnson said. "However, since the public hearing on the legislation, I have heard from many residents who oppose the idea."
If the bill is approved, Catalyst Outdoors, a Malvern advertising firm, would erect the two installations, with a portion of proceeds going to nonprofit groups in Squilla's district. Johnson has said he will look for other funding for the South Broad Street Corridor, which would have also received the money had the billboard gone up in his district.
Thaddeus Bartkowski, owner of Catalyst, has given political donations totaling nearly $10,000 to several Council members, including Squilla and Johnson.
Among those who spoke against the bill at Thursday's meeting was Elizabeth Savage, a Center City resident, who questioned whether the $5.2 million aggregate price Catalyst would pay the city over 25 years was high enough given anticipated revenue.
"This bill allows the goose that lays the golden egg to be sold for the price of the goose," Savage told Council.
Michael McGettigan, who lives in Southwest Center City, brought an LED light to the lectern with him to demonstrate its brightness.
McGettigan described the billboard plan as "late to the party" in terms of design and development. "Market East and South Broad Street are on the move," he said. "There's no need to use billboard light as a driver."
Squilla said the bill would create strict rules for the billboards. It includes provisions to limit brightness, size, content, and hours - the billboards would be limited to operating between 6 a.m. and midnight. The display designs must be approved by the city's Art Commission and in some cases the state Department of Transportation, Squilla said.
"The proof will be in the pudding. People will see these go up and they'll understand them better," Squilla said. "It's an exciting time for the city."
As other action at the meeting reflected, though, it's still a tough time for the city's cash-strapped schools. Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. introduced a resolution calling on Mayor Nutter to use his executive powers to implement a Payment in Lieu of Taxes program in Philadelphia. The order would direct tax-exempt "mega-nonprofits," such as hospitals and universities, to contribute to the city.
Goode said such payments could generate tens of millions of dollars for the School District.
Also Thursday, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown introduced a bill to make permanent the city's Office of LGBT Affairs. The move would put the proposal, which requires a charter change, on the November ballot.
Council also decided to hold hearings on ShotSpotter gunfire detection, a technology aimed at improving law enforcement response time.