Lebanon billboard proposal faces uncertain future

Photo by Ethan Steinquest - Lebanon Democrat

The Lebanon City Council is discussing the possibility of funding two billboards on the interstate to market the city, and the current design proposal uses the same artwork as the public square's latest mural.

The Lebanon City Council voted 5-1 to defer action on a project that would see billboards advertising the city placed on both sides of Interstate 40.

Mayor Bernie Ash is backing the project, which he introduced at a council work session last month. The total cost estimate is $26,000 for the first year and $24,000 per year afterward.

However, the council largely opposed taking a vote because contribution from community partners is still uncertain. Potential backers named at the meeting include the Lebanon Wilson Chamber of Commerce and the county government.

"What I'm wanting to do is for the city to pay for one billboard and find other donors to pay for the second billboard," Ash said. "They're holding these two spaces for us between 109 and Linwood, but by the time we get everything together, they may be gone. I'm supposed to let them know tomorrow whatever (the council) decides on."

The proposed billboards would display the mural located on Lebanon's public square. Finance Commissioner Stuart Lawson said the account the city would use to pay for the project has approximately $10,000, and that the city's economic development department has additional funds for marketing.

"I have a marketing line item and an advertising line item," Economic Development Director Sarah Haston said. "There's $30,000 total for the year in marketing and $20,000 total for the year in advertising. This isn't taking away from our existing marketing budget, this is adding (funding)."

Ward 5 Councilor Tick Bryan said he was willing to invest in the billboards because the contract period ends after 12 months, but the remaining councilors raised concerns about the vote.

"To me, there's no question we need to be marketing our city," Ward 4 Councilor Chris Crowell said. "I think probably the only issue, maybe even among everybody on the council, is just how. Is this the right thing, or what message do we have even on the billboard? I know some thought and effort went into the mural."

Ward 6 Councilor Jeni Lind Brinkman noted that the city recently finished the bidding process for a public relations firm and recommended waiting for their input on the project.

Other concerns included the specifics of economic impact and long-term payments.

"I've been asked a couple times by different people in the community, do we really know the economic impact having a mural on the intersection would be at this point," Ward 1 Councilor Joey Carmack said. "I also want to know, since this is going to be $24,000 a year, who is going to be contributing and are they going to continue to do that? At some point are they going to drop off and are

See Council/Page A6

we going to foot the whole bill? That's just kind of where I've got some reservations."

Ash said he does not have a plan in place to measure economic impact, but that the payment is light for a city Lebanon's size.

Although the council opted to wait for more information, its members are still interested in pursuing the billboards or another marketing project.

"Deferring at this time, it's not making it dead," Brinkman said. "If we can get some more clarification from the two entities that were wanting to contribute towards this, and if we can look at a baseline way of measuring the effect of this … it is beautiful, and it could bring people in, but we'd like a little more concrete info at this time."

The Lebanon City Council's next regular session meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Jan. 21, at the city's administration building on 200 N. Castle Heights Ave.

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