Ad Companies Challenge NYC Billboard Ban

     MANHATTAN (CN) – A New York City ordinance banning advertisements near parks and highways is a “self-serving and irrational regulatory scheme” that lets city-owned agencies “monopolize” billboards, two advertising companies claim in New York County Supreme Court.

     Fuel Outdoor and Marathon Outdoor say the regulation has forced private companies to take down their signs while allowing city-owned entities such as the Metropolitan Transit Authority, Department of Transportation and Citi Field to “monopolize” the outdoor advertising market.
     “By virtue of the operation of the Highway Ban, the City will eradicate lawful competition in the outdoor advertising industry … [and] simultaneously monopolize much of the most commercially desirable locations for outdoor advertising space,” the complaint states.
     The companies say the 2001 ban originally required companies to apply for a permit to build and maintain signs within 200 feet from a half-acre park or highway.
     But on April 12, 2005, the New York City Council amended the regulation with stricter statutes banning ads within 900 feet of a highway or 200 feet from a half-acre public park, according to the lawsuit.
     Its stringent regulations make the highway ban “a de facto ban on construction of new outdoor advertising signs,” the advertisers claim.
     The companies say the city council enacted the highway ban without setting up a committee or conducting any studies to determine its impact on traffic safety or aesthetics.
     And by exempting the DOT from its provisions, the companies claim, the city allowed ads on the sides of buses that “contain illuminated, bright flashing lights which can be extremely distracting to drivers and aesthetically displeasing.”
     They also object that Citi Field gets a free pass on outdoor billboards.
     “Despite the highway ban, Citi Field displays many large and flashy advertising signs that face Flushing Meadows Corona Park, a park that is approximately 1,255 acres, the lawsuit states.
     The companies claim the Citi Field signs “clearly fall within the highway ban, yet somehow evade regulation.”
     They say “the reduced availability of outdoor advertising signs throughout the city, particularly in prime geographic areas, will inflate costs associated with outdoor advertising,” which will drive most companies out of the city and force those that remain to raise their rates.
     “The regulations benefit defendants financially, while disadvantaging other advertisers,” the ad companies claim.
     They seek an order barring enforcement of the ban and a declaration that it violates New York’s Constitution — relief already won by seven other ad companies in a separate lawsuit, according to the lawsuit.
     Fuel Outdoor and Marathon Outdoor “simply request that (they) be granted the same relief by this court,” the complaint states.
     Defendants are New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the commissioners of the Department of Buildings and the Department of Transportation.
     The ad companies are represented by Bradley Green of Cohen, Hochman & Allen.

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