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Emanuel's 20-Year Digital Billboard Plan Advances

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Emanuel's 20-Year Digital Billboard Plan Advances

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to erect more than 30 digital billboards along Chicago's expressways, including as many as a dozen along the Kennedy, heads to the city council for approval.

A joint City Council committee approved the idea Monday but not without criticism. Some expressed concern over potentially cluttering Chicago's skyline and city officials not opening the bidding process for other companies.

Others worried whether taxpayers will be sold short as part of the long-term deal, while some argued the digital signs will replace more run-down billboards and, in the end, make money for the city.

Over the life of the proposed 20-year contract, the billboards would raise $150 million for Chicago.

That's in line with a municipal marketing figure approved by the council in Emanuel's 2013 city budget. If the deal is approved, Interstate-JCDecaux LLC will install 34 billboards next to expressways on city owned land. The signs could reach up to 100 feet tall.

James Daly, an attorney for competitive billboard companies, argued the deal "restricts speech within that 500-foot area adjacent to the expressways, except for the city and its chosen partner."

Daly said city officials are favoring Interstate-JCDecaux and excluding all other property owners.

In response, the city noted about 6,000 firms were contacted last year to pitch marketing ideas.

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