City signs up for rail-line billboards, but some councillors question their worth

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Sign up city councillors for more billboards along the Barrie-Collingwood Railway (BCRY) corridor and the revenue that comes with them.

Councillors gave initial approval Monday night to change the city’s sign bylaw to allow poster panel signs, or billboards, along the BCRY corridor on all city-owned land there, and grandfather existing signs.

Barrie’s sign bylaw prohibits signs on or over municipal land, other than official city signs.

Coun. Clare Riepma says it should stay that way.

“I don’t think there’s anybody that wants more billboard signs, except for a few sign salesmen and a few advertising folks,” he said.

“We need fewer signs in this city, not more,” Riepma added. “To me, it’s time we take back our city from the advertising agencies trying to sell us stuff that we really don’t need.

“From an urban perspective, billboards are visual pollution,” said Riepma, a former corridor control manager for Ontario’s Transportation Ministry.

But a majority of councillors support the sign bylaw change.

“It’s a rail corridor folks, a rail corridor,” Mayor Jeff Lehman said. “It is a piece of railway and while it is publicly owned, we certainly have the choice as to whether or not we allow additional advertising or not.

“I think we need to make an effort to at least explore these revenue sources and get the information,” he added.

“I’d rather look at a billboard than parked rail cars any day,” Deputy Mayor Barry Ward said.

BCRY is a short-line railway purchased from CN Rail in the 1990s by Barrie and Collingwood. The city owns, operates and maintains 35 kilometres of active rail within Innisfil, Barrie and Essa Township. Four industrial customers use BCRY services, shipping bulk clays, chemicals, industrial products, and oversized structures.

This rail service facilitates transportation of goods across Canada and the United States, seamlessly feeding into trunk networks of the major railway, Canadian Pacific.

Dawn McAlpine, Barrie’s general manager of community and corporate services, told councillors that a maximum of three new signs on the BCRY corridor would come from the city issuing a request for proposals.

The city now receives revenues of approximately $36,000 year for two traditional signs on the rail corridor.

“In higher-visibility locations, with increased competition in the market, there could be significantly more revenue, three times as much almost, for a single sign if it’s in the right location,” McAlpine said. “With a digital signs, there is significantly more revenue.”

She said some locations, with proximity to Highway 400, could generate $60,000 to $80,000 for each sign.

McAlpine says the rail line has operated, at times, at break-even, but more recently at a deficit. That amount was not available at Monday night’s meeting. Revenues also depend on the number of cars shipped on the line, and whether or not rail cars are stored on the line, she said.

Aside from Riepma, only Coun. Keenan Aylwin spoke against the motion.

“This is privatizing our public space. I hear from very few people who like billboards,” he said. “In particular digital signs will cheapen the way that our public spaces look.

“I hear over and over again, people don’t want more billboards. They think they’re unattractive, they’re ugly.”

Aylwin said he would consider introducing an amendment to the motion when it comes back to city council on Oct. 5 for final approval.

Source: Bob Bruton

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