ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The first electronic signs of a digital outdoor network for Allentown may start going into operation in a couple of high-profile locations around the city before the end of this year.
The digital signs will be used primarily for advertising, which will generate long-term revenue for the city.
They also will be used to promote city events and to rapidly help get the word out to the public during emergencies.
Most of the signs probably will be smaller than traditional advertising billboards. But some could be that large, depending on where they are erected.
As soon as early August, City Council may approve a proposal to begin the multi-year process to construct the digital outdoor network.
Advertising shown on those signs constantly will change, as it does on full-size electronic billboards. Both major brands and local businesses will be able to advertise on the digital signs.
The city will be in control of the kinds of advertising displayed on the signs, said City Controller Mary Ellen Koval, who explained the proposal to WFMZ.
The "digital boards" will be connected to the city's communications center, which will be able to take control of them "within a matter of a minute or two" to send out missing child alerts or to advise residents during other emergencies, said Koval. The city considers the signs "another public safety tool."
All the digital signs will go on city-owned property, but none will be placed in city parks, she said.
Koval said the total number of digital signs that will make up the outdoor digital network has not yet been decided, adding "that will be determined by the market."
She anticipates no more than 12 will be erected in phases over the next several years.
She said one or two might be operation before the end of this year.
The size of the signs will vary depending on where they are erected. She said all the locations have not yet been determined, but added the lawn in front of the Mack Southside Fire Station at Lehigh and Vultee streets would be one prime location.
Koval said locations for the signs are determined by several factors: where the city owns either used or unused property, whether that property is a practical location to erect a digital sign and whether advertisers will pay to have their messages shown there.
She said the signs will be in operation round-the-clock, which means the city will have to consider if any nearby homes might be detrimentally impacted by their glare.
Several factors will influence how much revenue is generated by a sign, including its size, location and how long an advertisement is shown before the next image flashes on. Koval said city zoning will determine how frequently digital images can change.
The city's administration intends to award the contract for the digital outdoor network to Premiere Media Allentown, LCC, but City Council's approval is required.
"We are going for a 15-year lease," explained Koval. "Any contracts over five years in duration must be approved by City Council."
A resolution authorizing the administration to enter into that 15-year contract was introduced to City Council Wednesday night, but not discussed. It will be reviewed by the human resources, administration and appointments committee, which will make a recommendation back to the full council.
The digital outdoor network is on the agenda for that council committee's next meeting at 7 p.m. July 25 in City Hall. If the committee decides to make a favorable recommendation to council that night, the full council could vote for approval of the proposal during its next public meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 1.
Premiere Media Allentown will construct the digital outdoor network over a period of 15 years, with an option to renew for two additional five-year periods.
Koval said both Adams Outdoor Advertising and Lamar Advertising participated in a pre-proposal conference in the city, but only Premiere Media submitted a proposal. "I think they'll do a great job," she said.
The administration approved Premiere's proposal on March 20.
The city expects to get up to 25 percent of gross advertising revenue from the sign network.
Koval explained the city will get no money from Premiere Media up front, but revenue to Allentown will increase as the digital outdoor network expands and more advertisements are displayed on it. She declined to predict how much money might be generated for the city, but said the administration is developing revenue estimates to present to council's committee next week.
Allentown, PA 18102