Thursday, March 25, 2010

NPA Leaves NYC For Good, Contest Promotions Still at Large

NPA wildposting removed

After speculating on NPA closing shop in New York and passing on a small portion of their illegal ad business to Contest Promotions, it was only right we get the story from a more credible source. We contacted the DOB, and a friend that will remain anonymous answered a few questions. First we would like to congratulate the DOB on their recent efforts in NYC. Wildposting and Sniping of construction sites has stopped almost everywhere and a large portion of NPA's ads have been whited out, their fate to be determined. We do hope that the DOB will continue to put pressure on Contest Promotions and not allow the meaning of 1st and 3rd party signage be manipulated for profit at the public's expense.

NPA wildposting removed
PublicAdCampaign: I am under the assumption NPA is shutting down in NY and leaving Contest Promotions to operate as many locations as they can pretend are legal. I posted my opinion on my site today and im curious if it is correct. Do you know anything about this, or do you know someone I can speak to who might know more about this?

Anonymous: Your assumption about them shutting down as NPA is correct. They recently applied to withdraw their OAC registration. While CP is a different corporate entity, there apparently is some overlap between the two. As of now, CP signs are still considered advertising, not accessory; and the DOB will not stay enforcement against such signs.

PublicAdCampaign: Lastly I must ask a personal question. Did the NYSAT civil disobedience project have any affect on this outcome, no matter how small or large. We are planning on going to other cities with similar projects and we would love to find some inspiration in these recent events.

Anonymous: Although coincidentally timed at around the same time, our enforcement efforts were unrelated to the NYSAT activities as wildpostings had been on our radar for awhile. After we began to control the large flex signage (as best we could), we moved on to the smaller, street level ads w/ an enforcement sweep in April 2009 that included over a hundred locations in Manhattan.

Honestly, you’d have to ask NPA if your activities had an effect on their operations, but I have to believe the bad press (and general disruption of some of their operations) had some effect.
Looking into NPAs business you can see what kind of "disruptions" this source might be talking about. For one, the head of NPA operations in NY is/was Rick Del Mastro. He is also the president of the New Era Democrats, an independent political association in NY since 1982. It would seem the NED mission statement contrasts too starkly with NPA's blatant abuse of our community for private interests.
"N.E.D. is a “family” of loyal, genuine friends and associates who embrace all types of participants in its activities, regardless of race, creed, national origin, age, sex or sexual preference. Our organization endeavors to attract persons of integrity who place the interests of their communities and of society above considerations of personal gain."
For whatever reasons NPA has closed shop, we are happy to see them go. We do hope that community pressure was able to expedite the process and allow the DOB to be emboldened by our support.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Unsanctioned Gym Billboard Sparks Outrage In West Village

It's great to see people up in arms about commercial signage appropriating public spaces but this one, despite not being properly permitted, is still a first party sign. I would hope that this outrage will continue as we see other illegal signs enter our neighborhoods on illegal walls and rolldown gates toting signage that has nothing to do with the business or building it is adhered to.

VIA Gothamist
We've spent a good chunk of time writing about illegal advertisements, but few have been as large — or caused as much fury — as this billboard in the West Village. Ever since the Equinox Health Club wrapped its Greenwich Avenue building with seemingly illegal ads, preservationists have been up in arms, according to Curbed. [MORE]

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wildposting's Been Operating Longer Than I Thought

A good friend and PublicAdCampaign reader, Elizabeth Carey Smith, sent me this image taken from Ellen Lupton's "Thinking with Type". According to Elizabeth, the caption for the picture reads...
"Lithographic trade card, 1878. The rise of advertising in the nineteenth century stimulated demand for large-scale letters that could command attention in urban space. Here, a man is shown posting a bill in flagrant disregard for the law, while a police officer approaches from around the corner."
It's interesting to know that illegal posting of bills, or Wildposting as we now call it, was illegal in 1878. I'm not so sure this has remained true the entire time since, but I can tell you Wildposting in NYC is completely illegal today. In fact, about 3 hrs ago I saw two construction workers on 17th street between 8th and 9th avenues laboriously removing illegal Wildposting from and area approximately 200' long by 10' tall. They did so by wetting down the illegal ad, waiting till the water soaked through, and then scrapping at them with a putty knife. From what I could tell in the 5 minutes I watched them work, this process would take at least the entire day.

Why were they doing this you ask? Because in our insane system, when you call in this type of illegal advertising to 311, the building owner is the one who receives the $10,000.00 fine. This I have been told is largely because the city is unable to positively identify the company who is sneaking around the city at night illegally posting these advertisements and therefor the building owner must be held responsible for the conditions of his property. In yet another bizarre loophole that keeps our city riddled with unwanted commercial messages, the companies who are being advertised are not responsible for the damage either. Again this is all because for some reason we can't figure out if the companies had full knowledge that the advertising they were paying for would be used in this illegal manner.

Excuse my language, but give me a fucking break. One only knows how many Wildposting companies operated back in 1878, but today I can tell you the one that rules NY with an iron fist, as well as most of the major cities around the United States, including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, and Washington D.C., is NPA City Outdoor. In fact they own the copyright on the term Wildposting, which is odd because as far as I know you can't copyright something illegal. In fact this company openly admits that they offer citywide domination through Wildposting on their website...
"Available in the top 25 markets from coast to coast, nothing lets you dominate a space more quickly, or more efficiently, than our WILDPOSTINGSM Outdoor Advertising Programs. We offer high profile locations - with the greatest of visual impact. Because of this, big name advertisers are now using WILDPOSTINGSM not as a sideshow but as an integral part of their multimedia campaigns.
Firs of all, who said you could "dominate" our public space? As this situation is infuriating to many people living in New York City, PublicAdCampaign has made it a mission to deal with this problem. This has included laboriously cataloging and photographing 189 illegal NPA Wildposting locations around the city and sending this information to the DOB sign enforcement unit, as well as direct action projects to take back those spaces, if not briefly, for public use. The former resulted in no response, despite having a personal relationship with important people in this department, while the later has resulted in a total of 9 arrests of our friends and colleagues.

The result? A total disregard for our public space causing building owners to incur unnecessary fines and require them to pay for countless days of work to remove these illegal commercial messages. On top of this, the tax payer has had to foot the bill for the arrest, processing, detainment, arraignment, and judgment of nine individuals intent on helping the city become aware of this problem. With no one else to blame but NPA City Outdoor, isn't it time the city stop footing the bill for its illegal advertising problem and go after the company we all know is responsible?

More to come as the fight to regain control of our public space continues...

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Monday, August 17, 2009

DOB Explains 936 bway-

A few days ago I posted about the recent copy change at 936 Broadway. Initially I took notice of this location when it sported a bright blue Intel advertisement along with some digital screens and a fantastic STOP WORK ORDER.

Obviously that SWO was meant to stop new signs from going up but the recent Home Depot copy change indicates otherwise. When I looked at the DOB website to see if that SWO was still there, I realized that it had been removed. Unsure of what this might mean in regards to the legality of the InWindow's business and the practice of erecting streescapes, I looked in a bit further with the DOB. I found out there have been a total of 26 violations served from as early as March at 936 Broadway and that the removal of the SWO doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. I'm assured a call to 311 will result in another violation and a reinstatement of the SWO, but when will it come down?

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

InWindow Loves 936 Broadway

InWindow is still operating at 936 Broadway. Back in May we reported on an illegal Intel advertisement being operated at this InWindow location and the partial stop work order which halted advertising until recently. The newest Streetscape for Home Depot has gone up after a the partial stop work order was rescinded by the DOB. I put in a call to some people at the DOB to see if this is a special variance, is due to ongoing legal proceedings, or is just a result of the city putting it's tail between it's legs and allowing advertising to run rampant on our city. I will report back if the DOB does.

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

San Francisco Has it Easy Man

I was recently made aware of this article through an interesting post by the The Anti-Advertising Agency. It focuses on the illegal storefront ads produced by Companies like InWindow, but also goes into some depth about how the San Francisco Planning Department is combating their illegal outdoor advertising issue. Obviously very optimistic, the SF planning Department has canvased a large portion of the 1,532 outdoor advertisements in the city. In doing so they have been able to make contact with the owners of these billboards and issue the appropriate warning and or fines required. As I have been told, the response from the outdoor advertising companies in San Francisco has been relatively compliant and unusually civil.

If only things were so easy in New York. We are blessed with an outdoor advertising industry of a much grander proportion and therefor are unable to "canvas" the city as San Francisco is in the process of doing. Because we cannot do so, outdoor advertising agencies are able to operate illegally amidst the confusion. Take for example the sign with 103 violations, or the million dollar sign, which by the way has finally been removed. These kinds of atrocities can only happen when the city is overwhelmed by the problem and unable to properly control companies which can hide in plain sight. We cannot look to our DOB to control OAC's, despite them giving an amazingly valiant effort. We must as a public reclaim control ourselves by any and all means necessary.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Two NPA Outdoor Signs Removed

I Just walked by these two NPA street level billboards and they were gone. There are a few reasons this could have happened including, the lease ran out and they didn't want to renew. My personal favorite would be that the recent actions of some concerned citizens caused the DOB to look into NPA outdoor and serve a violation. Either way, if we could remove the illegal Fuel Outdoor ad display that's still there, that wall might have some potential.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

And then Suddenly it Was Gone

Okay so this is just strange. May 27th I saw this InWindow advertisement for Absolute Vodka go up at 320 west 14th street. May 29th that same ad was gone and the location looked like the above. Ill call the landlord and see if I can get any info out of him or her as to why this sign was installed but came down so quickly. A friend of mine suggested the DOB would not issue other work orders, (Seen on front door) which the landlord obviously needs for alterations he or she might make for prospective renters. Makes sense but I will check in.

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Forcibly Removing an Illegal Sign Downtown

I'm happy to hear that the DOB has gone ahead and begun to physically remove illegal signs when OAC's and building owners are non-compliant. I know this has been an uphill battle for the DOB, and this recent action is more akin to the NYSAT project than to normal city operations, which often favor legal proceedings over direct response.

This is an indication that New York is finally allowing itself to regulate the public environment, instead of the high powered lawyers and millions of dollars in advertising revenue. Despite this being a somewhat unorthodox and ultimately an authoritative move on New York's part, something we don't necessarily want to condone, it is the only option left. What can they do when this is the way the city and it's residents are treated by outdoor advertising companies?
“After a removal order was posted, a Department of Buildings inspection determined the sign was removed, yet it was promptly reinstalled days after the inspection.”
Now the only problem is I'm sure the city paid Service Sign Erectors, the company responsible for the removal of the sign. In fact, chances are this is the same company that puts the illegal advertising signs up in the first place.

VIA The New York Times

By David W. Dunlap

Photo Carly Sullivan/New York City Department of Buildings.

A crew from Service Sign Erectors removed an illegal billboard at Broadway and Maiden Lane under orders from the New York City Department of Buildings.

For several years — in spite of 103 violation notices issued against it — a three-story, wrap-around billboard has blanketed the lower floors of the 19th-century Cushman Building, 174 Broadway, at Maiden Lane.

On Thursday, clearly feeling that its enforcement efforts had been lost on OTR Media Group, which installed the sign, and 1 Maiden Lane Realty, which owns the building, the Department of Buildings took the sign down itself.

“This is the first time the Department of Buildings has physically removed an illegal sign from a building,” the agency’s press secretary, Kate Lindquist, said. A company called Service Sign Erectors performed the work for the city.

Illegal SignDavid W. Dunlap/The New York Times

In recent months, the sign had been advertising Jaguar automobiles.

“Not only do illegal advertising signs have a negative impact on a neighborhood’s quality of life, they also can pose a danger to the public if they are not safely installed,” said Ed Fortier, the agency’s executive director of special enforcement. “These signs were installed without a permit, and we removed them to protect pedestrians and the building’s tenants. We remove signs in cases where property owners and outdoor advertising companies repeatedly flout the law.”

By “repeatedly,” the Department of Buildings said it was referring to 103 violation notices issued to OTR and 1 Maiden Lane since July 2007. In January, the agency said, it took the matter to the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings.

“The attorney for the respondent signed a stipulation agreeing to cease the display of illegal signage at the premises, and a judge recommended the removal of the sign,” Ms. Lindquist said in a statement. “After a removal order was posted, a Department of Buildings inspection determined the sign was removed, yet it was promptly reinstalled days after the inspection.”

The department said that 517 violation notices had been issued to OTR-controlled locations citywide. The company’s phone line is answered by an automatic system. Messages left Thursday at three extensions — the general switchboard, the sales office and the operations office — were not immediately returned.

Despite the illegality, buildings are constantly being pressed into service as billboards: the Museum of Arts and Design in April 2006, 475 Fifth Avenue in November 2006, the Chanel building at 15 East 57th Street in October 2008 and the former Brooks Brothers store at Broadway and 22nd Street in March.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

InWindow Doesn't Listen to You or the City

I've posted a bunch about Inwindow outdoor advertising because they are tearing through the city at the same incredible rate that storefront businesses are going under. All of their success, wonderfully critiqued by Steve Lambert, is happening on false pretenses. In fact they are operating completely illegally and doing so brazenly. Take for example 936 Broadway. This location originally held a giant illegal Western Union advertisement. The building was issued a stop work order by the DOB for an "OAC SIGN ON DISPLAY WITHOUT A PERMIT" due to multiple complaints, including #1250745. Despite this, today I walked by 936 Broadway and the copy has changed to the above Intel advertisement.

Since 3-10-09 until this moment, there has been a stop work order on the property and this means there should be no work being done until that stop work order is resolved. Yet the copy has miraculously changed. Inwindow is operating brazenly indeed, and is fully ignoring the city and it's wishes. I am perplexed by this, partially because it is standard operating procedure when it comes to advertising and the city, and partially cause I don't really know how to deal with it. I want to call the sign enforcement unit, but I'm sure they already know. In fact they are probably embroiled in some absurd legal battle that prevents them from stopping Inwindow from changing the ad copy.

I said it before and I'll say it again; when the city can't demand what the the law expects, who is the city serving?

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Storefronts are illegal!

I finally called the senior attorney at the Department of Buildings Sign Enforcement Unit and spoke to him about the storefront window wraps that have been appearing around the city in a wave of business closures. I was curious about the above Western Union wrap at 936 Broadway that had drawn my attention to this issue in the first place. A week after I had seen a stop work order plastered to the windows covered in advertising, those same notifications were gone. After revisiting the DOB website it was clear that the violation was still active and that those stop work orders had simply been removed by the building without resolving the problem.

I wanted to know if there was a general rule regarding this new type of signage so I called up and asked the DOB. The definitive answer I got was that these ads, provided they are compliant with proper zoning regulations and are properly permitted, are like any other billboard and completely legal. Fantastic, so why don't these people bother getting permits? Other similar ad wraps have shown up recently and are also operating without permits. What I don't understand is the flagrant disregard for NYC law, which ends up being part of the reason that the public is so outraged. People like me would have very little recourse when complaining about signage in the city if those operating the signs would have the decency to run their business within the confines of NYC law.

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Monday, April 6, 2009

NPA Outdoor Operates Illegal Signage Too

Residents of the West Village live in a quaint area for the most part free of advertising signage. When the above sign at the corner of Washington and Charles st. popped up out of nowhere after a construction barrier surrounding this lot was removed, residents called in at least a few complaints, including #1247480. That construction barrier once held illegal wildposting signage like that pictured below. When that was removed it was clearly time for NPA Outdoor to put up this illegal 24'x8' "dedicated location". Thanks guys.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Tackling Illegal Signage in the Digital Age

La has a moratorium on digital and supergraphic signs, which means any signage that goes up that wasn't there yesterday is illegal. This makes it very easy for residents to help spot these eyesores and report them to the city. The fact that no authority needs to determine the new signs illegality allows the city attorney's office to act immediately. In fact, the city attorney's office has setup a website where residents can report illegal signs directly to them, and skip over any red tape, or other offices which might slow down the process of serving these law breakers.

Despite there being no similar moratorium in New York, a web form which allowed residents to report illegal signage would be very helpful here as well. Often when I call in violations to the DOB through 311, my description of the billboard is recorded incorrectly and or I have an image I would like to include. In an effort to alleviate the burden the Sign Enforcement Unit has, web forms with image attachments would allow the team to determine some billboards legality without leaving the office.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

The $1M billboard: City demands Astor Place building pay huge fines over 'illegal' signs

I love how building owners and outdoor advertising companies act as if they are completely unaware of both the penalties and the laws regarding outdoor advertising signage. Both OTR Media, and the co-op board at this location were well aware of the reasons this sign was in violation, and have been since the first summons. The buildings department does not suddenly send you a letter saying you owe $995,000.00. This happens after repeated attempts to serve both the company and the building with little to no response from either, a flagrant disregard for the city, its residents and our laws. This disregard runs so deep that the companies are appaled when the city actually enforces its laws and demands compliance. If for some strange reason OTR Media was not aware of the rules and regulations regarding the erection of outdoor advertising signage in New York City, I suggest they have someone look into it because that's a big part of the bussiness they are tryin run.

I looked into the DOB website for details regarding the violations at this site and 59 4th avenue doesn't seem to exist. This is strange, and I will look into why over the next few days.

Friday, March 27th 2009, 9:24 AM


Billboard for Boost Mobile on building at Fourth Ave. and Ninth St. in Greenwich Village may prove costly for co-op board.

It's Manhattan's million-dollar billboard.

That's nearly the amount the city is fining a coop board, billboard company and two installers over a giant sign on a building near Astor Place.

More than 70 violations - totaling $955,000 - have been doled out over the single billboard, which the Buildings Department says violates zoning laws.

The groups slapped with the hefty fines call them shockingly high since signs have been plastered on the structure for more than 70 years.

"It's absolutely outrageous, especially in this economy," said Ari Noe, CEO of OTR Media. "It's great income for the building owners."

The hubbub over the billboard, which currently advertises Boost Mobile, is the latest in a series of disputes between sign companies and the city.

Since the 1930s, a vintage sign advertising men's suit was painted on the side of the building on the corner of Ninth St. and Fourth Ave., said Patrick Curley, a member of the coop board who has lived there since 1978.

Then about six year ago, billboard companies began approaching the coop board - Fourth Avenue Loft Corp. - about placing ads there. The board charges a flat fee of $5,000 a month, which goes toward exterior improvements and other building upkeep.

Starting in 2007, inspectors began fining the coop board, OTR Media and two sign hanging companies for billboards advertising "King of the Hill" and the Turner Cartoon Network.

"Suddenly, they're noticing it. I don't understand what their reasoning is," said Curley, 57.

The violations, which come with penalties as high as $25,000, cover multiple offenses, including not having a permit, hanging an ad exceeding 500 square feet and placing the sign more than 40 feet above the curb.

Noe, though, believes the billboards should be grandfathered in since the space has continually featured advertisements for so many years.

But Buildings officials say new billboards are simply not allowed in that district.

"We will not tolerate any individuals or companies who disregard the law to make a profit," department spokesman Tony Sclafani said.

Some passersby couldn't believe the city was targeting what looks like a run-of-the-mill billboard.

"That's more than ridiculous," said Benson Graves, 21, manager of a nearby Ben & Jerry's. "There are posters all over the city just like that."

A hearing about the violations is set for April 16.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Illegal Billboards In Brooklyn


I try to keep my illegal billboard tracking to the illegal billboards site, but this one just pissed me off.

I know Bedford Avenue is a trendy little gentrified spot these days that I might have even helped contribute to in some small way. I also know a lot of very amazing locals who continue to live there and care about the neighborhood. Like many Brooklyn areas, Williamsburg has long been overlooked by aggressive outdoor advertising. I'm sure this is due to pedestrian and motor vehicle traffic calculations. With the addition of this new sign, its clear that the industry has decided that has changed.

Did the landlord really think no one would check to see if this neighborhood altering sign was permitted, given it stands out like a sore thumb in an area for the most part free of vinyl signage? If so he was wrong because illegal billboards happened to walk up that street today. [post]

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Monday, October 27, 2008

64 3rd Avenue: Fascia Sign on a Mural Permit

I posted about this illegal billboard on a few days ago and Rami Tabello from, being the most versed person I know on Illegal billboards, picked it up and gave it some interesting back story. This sign is not only illegal for not complying with its permit but in fact it was removed by the DOB because of its illegality approximately 3 months ago. The fact that it has been rehung is proof of the blatant disregard outdoor advertising companies have towards the laws of NYC and towards the interests of its citizens.

from by Rami Tabello

We’ve written quite a bit about fascia signs on mural permits. In fact, the City of Toronto is now being sued by Titan Outdoor over the issue. Toronto is not the only city with a vinyl sign on a painted sign problem. There is a lot in common between New York City and Toronto. Billboards for one.

This article from the New York Times from is from 1998:

The article illustrates that, just like in the City of Toronto, the New York Department of Buildings is issuing illegal permits for billboards:

City Councillor Duane recently wrote to the Commissioner of Buildings, Gaston Silva, saying that he fears the department ”is issuing blanket approvals for these signs without regard to building codes, zoning regulations, or their appropriateness.”

The article then goes on to say:

Billboards are permitted, with restrictions, in the parts of downtown that are zoned for manufacturing. They are banned in historic districts, though painted advertisements are allowed on some buildings. And within 100 feet of a residential zone or park, billboards are allowed only if they face at least 165 degrees away.

So the NYC code has more permissive regulations for painted advertising.

The photograph above, from, is of Fuel Outdoor’s illegal billboards at 64 3rd Avenue. A complaint was filed against the sign on August 14, 2006. Then in December 2007, Fuel Outdoor obtained a permit to paint a sign on this wall.

The permit appears to specify that there was an existing legal non-conforming painted sign on this wall. We would doubt that.

We’ve written about Fuel Outdoor before in Fuel Outdoor - The Dirtiest Billboard Company in America and Fuel Outdoor Builds 324 Illegal Signs in New York City Then Sues New York City.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Ad or Art? Chanel’s 2.55 vs. Zoning’s C5-3

Via The New York TimesDavid W. Dunlap

Illegal Chanel sign

The Buildings Department says Chanel’s billboard on East 57th Street is illegal. (Photo: David W. Dunlap/The New York Times)

Vinyl billboard blankets have been draped over all kinds of buildings, but they’re not usually found obscuring the glittering luxury outlets along East 57th Street.

Chanel, however, has done that very thing: hanging a big piece of vinyl over its building at No. 15, promoting Mobile Art, an exhibition by the architect Zaha Hadid that opens in a temporary pavilion in Central Park next Monday. The show was described by my colleague Carol Vogel as a “provocative advertisement” in and of itself.

“Chanel, the fashion brand, commissioned Ms. Hadid to create the traveling structure to house works by about 15 hot contemporary artists,” Ms. Vogel wrote on July 24. “Each was asked to create a work that was at least in part inspired by Chanel’s classic 2.55 quilted-style chain handbag, so named because it was first issued in February 1955.”

So this billboard is, in effect, an advertisement for an advertisement. And it is illegal, the Buildings Department said, after City Room brought the sign to the agency’s attention.

Although the department was focused Thursday on an international conference about crane safety, Kate Lindquist, a spokeswoman, said it was issuing two summonses, returnable before the Environmental Control Board, for installing an advertising sign without a permit and for obstructing windows. Each violation carries a maximum penalty of $15,000, she said.

Telephone and e-mail requests for comment from Chanel over the last two days have gone unanswered.

The Chanel building is in a C5-3 zoning district, where the only signs permitted are those that are “accessory” to activities taking place on the same lot. In other words, Chanel can have a sign for its own store. But even allowable signs may not exceed 200 square feet in a C5-3 district, and the Mobile Art billboard would seem to be at least 2,000 square feet. Signs may not be higher than 25 feet above the curb, and again, the Mobile Art billboard fails the test.

Vanessa Gruen of the Municipal Art Society, which has fought billboards for more than a century, said that the content was irrelevant in this case. “Even if it’s for a theoretically good cause,” she said, “that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to advertise on buildings.”

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Cover Up

This article was written for the November 29th, 2006 issue of The New York Press and was only recently brought to my attention. The result was the removal of vinyl signs from scaffolding all around the city. The DOB created a Sign Enforcement Program for illegal advertising and began policing more heavily. Bnet seemed to think they were sending the wrong message, yet illegal signs still exist all over the city. You can call 311 to report illegal billboards, and I would encourage anyone to visit for a more information regarding NYC outdoor advertising.

How New York’s buildings are disappearing beneath a blanket of never-ending scaffolds and backroom deals

By Lindsay Beyerstein

For many residents of the oft-termed New New York, the post-9/11 building boom represents prosperity, regeneration and renewed vitality. Throughout the city, new buildings are springing up and existing structures are undergoing improvements. New condos are rising behind construction walls. Venerable landmark buildings are shedding decades of city grime and restoring their former grandeur with ambitious restoration projects. Lately, it seems as though every block has at least one building shrouded in scaffolds and netting.

Over the past five years, scaffolds and construction walls have become fixtures of the New York landscape. So has the advertising that’s plastered all over them. It’s almost remarkable to see a scaffold that doesn’t bear a lurid vinyl banner touting a television network, a beer, an airline or an automobile.

Vinyl construction wraps loom over sidewalks all over the city—from the towering blue Infiniti ad wrapped around a vacant lot in Soho to the new Equinox Fitness wrap on the Flatiron Building. As soon as a construction site wall goes up, it gets plastered with brightly colored posters for records, movies, concerts and gadgets, usually as part of a corporate sniping campaign known in the trade as “wild posting.”

These ads are so brazen and so ubiquitous that most would find it hard to believe that most of them are, in fact, totally illegal. Construction site ads run afoul of the New York City law stating that, “there shall be no information, pictorial representations or any business or advertising messages posted on such protective structures at demolition or construction sites.” In laymen’s terms, that means that if you see an ad on a construction site, be it a poster or a full-scale sidewalk shed wrap, it’s almost certainly illegal. The only exception is for businesses whose regular signs are obscured by construction; they are allowed small wooden or metal sign directly in front of their outlets.

“It is illegal to advertise on a scaffold shed or a construction wall in New York City,” confirms Jennifer Givner, a spokeswoman for New York’s City Department of Buildings, the agency tasked with policing construction signage.

The rules are crystal clear, but New York is facing an epidemic of illegal advertising. In the summer 2006, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer mounted a vigorous campaign of press conferences, official statements and media appearances to pressure the Department of Buildings to crack down on illegal ads by enforcing the existing laws.

In a press release issued Aug. 20, 2006, Stringer stated, “More than an eyesore for our neighborhoods, these advertisements are illegal and inappropriate. We cannot allow corporate branding to determine the look of our streets and neighborhoods. We have laws in place to avoid these situations and clearly they are not being enforced.”

“It’s an illegal black market,” said State Senator Tom Duane, one of Stringer’s most visible allies in the fight against illegal ads. It’s also a booming business. New York’s construction boom and the looming deadline for facade repairs under Local Law 11 ensure a steady supply of advertising space. Sidewalk sheds, the legally-mandated enclosures that bridge the sidewalk to shield the public from falling debris, are prime targets for custom-printed vinyl wrap ads.

Advertisers from all over the world are vying to associate their products with the new, affluent New York. Whether it’s the bright lights of Times Square, or the giant wallscapes of Soho, advertisers can’t wait to add to the aura of corporate cool. “Outdoor advertising is the hot thing right now,” said Vanessa Gruen, director of special projects at the Municipal Art Society, a civic organization dedicated to preserving New York’s aesthetics. “In the age of TiVo, advertisers want ‘fixed eyeballs.’”

Under the cover of construction, ads for some of the world’s biggest brands are taking up residence at many of New York’s most prestigious addresses, including many buildings designated as landmarks. So far, Stringer’s PR campaign seems to have had little affect on the number of illegal ads vying for public attention.

Why do these blatantly illegal ads flourish in plain sight, despite the vocal opposition?

It’s one of those urban paradoxes: Some of the most conspicuous objects in the city are affixed to some of the most famous addresses in town, but it’s not clear to the casual observer how they got there. We know the brand in the ad, we know the address. But the middlemen are the mystery.

Upon further investigation, some of the mystery is revealed: It turns out that the recent construction site blight has a lot to do with a group of firms known as outdoor advertising companies (OAC). Outdoor ad agencies are like real estate agencies for outdoor ad space. They are the brokers who bring landlords and brands together.

According to Chris Carr, the executive vice president of City Outdoor, a national outdoor media firm, OACs form relationships with landlords who want to sell advertising space on their property. Then the OAC sells this space to people who want to put up ads.

When asked whether his company had placed ads on sidewalk sheds in New York, Carr replied, “We have placed ads on construction sites in the past, but it’s a very small part of our business.”

When asked which ads City Outdoor had placed on which construction sites, Carr replied, “That’s confidential.”

In response to a question about the “legal framework” for placing ads on New York City scaffolds, Carr answered, “New York City has regulations in place against shed advertising. There’s the scaffold, and there’s the protection barrier as a shed. So, depending on the neighborhood, there are restrictions.” [Note: According to Jennifer Givner and the DOB website, shed advertising is prohibited throughout the city.

City Outdoor shares an office suite at 1333 Broadway with a company called NPA Wildposting. NPA Wildposting specializes in the faux-guerilla advertising technique known as sniping. The two companies also promote themselves jointly on a single website ( Chris Serino is a sales manager at the Eastern branch of NPA Wildposting and shares a suite with Chris Carr of City Outdoor.

When asked whether NPA has agreements with specific construction site owners to poster their construction sites, Serino said, “Yes, we do,” adding suddenly, “This isn’t something I should ... ” Serino stopped short, then referred New York Press to the Los Angles office of NPA Wildposting. The call to the Los Angeles office was not returned. Adam Salacuse, CEO of Alt-Terrain Media, a Boston-based guerilla marketing and media company, confirmed that NPA is a major player in New York City wild posting, including posters on construction sites.

“NPA does 90 percent of the posters that you see in [New York].” he said, “Here’s the skinny on wild posting: If there’s a frame around the posters, they’re paid spots. Sometimes they have an agreement with construction site owners to poster their sites. For scaffolds under construction, about half the time they do, and half the time they don’t,” Salacuse said.

Titan Outdoor LLC and Van Wagner Communications, two large OACs serving New York, did not return repeated phone calls. Yet, these big players are surprisingly candid about their shed sheathing services on their websites. Titan’s website explicitly offers construction wraps in the New York media market. The site even features a photograph of a Staples shed ad. In another shot, a looming bright green shed exhorts pedestrians to watch the Food Network.

Titan’s website sums up the value of construction wraps as follows: “In many neighborhoods, Construction Wraps are the only way to share your message where other large format Out-of-Home media are zoned out. These oversized spectaculars often dominate a full city block displaying your bold, colorful ad, while achieving unparalleled impact.”

Van Wagner’s website doesn’t offer to place ads on sheds or construction bridges in so many words, but it’s hard to miss the giant disembodied heads of Jennifer Aniston and Jerry Seinfeld on the construction wrap in their Flash media presentation. However, neither Titan nor Van Wagner advertises wild posting.

It turns out that some OACs are exploiting a loophole in the law to avoid the consequences of illegal advertising. The penalty for an illegal ad depends on whether the DOB manages to catch the building owner or the advertising company who placed the ad.

The next time you drive by a billboard, shed ad or pass a telephone kiosk with an ad, look for the logo of the outdoor advertising company that put it up. You should see a sign identifying the company that put up the shed (the wood and metal bridge over the sidewalk that protects pedestrians from dropped tools and falling gargoyle fragments), but you’ll never see a trace of the outdoor advertising company that placed the giant ad there in the first place.

“There are different approaches to policing sidewalk shed ads,” explains Givner. “If the OAC is labeled on the sign, we can issue a violation to the OAC. The fine is $10,000 to $25,000. If it doesn’t have a label, [we] issue the violation to the building owner for 0 to $2,500.”

As Scott Stringer notes, building owners risk these fines because it can be very profitable for them to do so. Advertising Age estimates that illegal ads, including sidewalk shed wraps can bring in $40,000 to $50,000 dollars a month, a figure also cited by the trade journal Media Buyer Planner. Moreover, the DOB has no power to remove illegal ads, even if it issues a citation. “We can’t take the ads down because they aren’t a threat to public safety, and the sheds are considered private property,” Givner explains.

Often, the DOB doesn’t even get to the citation phase. In May, the Municipal Art Society (MAS), who has been fighting illegal ads in New York since 1904, sponsored a contest called “Shoot It Down!” to identify the most egregiously illegal ads in New York. Submissions poured in from all over the city, but MAS narrowed the field to 44 of the worst offenders. Borough President Stringer’s office reviewed the data on 42 of these ads and found that 79 percent of them had never been issued a violation for illegal signage.

Construction advertising is the Wild-West of the media world. Some unscrupulous actors in this unregulated market are making life miserable—and even dangerous—for New Yorkers. Glaring safety violations are becoming commonplace in this unregulated market.

Recently, on Madison Avenue at 42nd Street, someone decided that a shed ad for Enviga energy drinks was more important than the traffic light behind it. When citizens complained, someone cut a keyhole for the sign. The public wasn’t satisfied, so someone enlarged the hole. Finally, the entire ad came down amid public outcry. On October 26, a sidewalk shed laden with an oversized Helio sign collapsed on Lafayette St. near the corner of Prince. Often these oversized parapets are a safety hazard because they catch the wind like giant sails, making the entire structure more likely to collapse. The DOB hasn’t banned oversized parapets yet, but tougher regulations may be on the horizon.

“It’s not a formal policy decision,” said Givner, “but the department has been examining those sheds with large parapet walls. In high wind, they pose a higher safety risk. Our job is to ensure public safety on the construction site. We’re looking to see what size is appropriate.” Some scaffold manufacturers admit to working with building owners to craft these oversized scaffolds to better-display advertising.

Peter O’Farrell, President of the Colgate Scaffolding & Equipment Corp. explains how his family-owned company fills custom requests: “Everything goes through the building owner. If they wanted a higher bridge, they’d have to pay a higher price, for the extra money and the extra labor.”

O’Farrell added that he never deals with OACs directly, and his scaffold company never shares in the revenues from shed advertising. “If there’s going to be advertising on our bridge, that’s always directly between the building owner and the advertising company,” he said. Not everyone is willing to indulge owners’ requests for custom ad-bearing sheds, however. “We do not build scaffolds to accommodate ads,” said Ken Buettner, president of the York Scaffolding Equipment Corp. “I have an aversion to it. It’s an aesthetic blight, and it’s illegal.”

Buettner may be a lonely dissenter in an ad-mad market. The situation may seem hopeless, but there may yet be a crackdown on construction site advertising. An anti-visual clutter measure called Local Law 31, may finally give authorities the tools they need to fight the black market in shed ads. Mayor Bloomberg signed the bill into law in 2005, but the full effect of the measure is only now being felt. The law has two key provisions: First, building owners who lease ads on their premises will be considered outdoor advertising companies. As such, they can be charged a maximum of $25,000 dollars, instead of the current maximum of $2,500.

Second, all outdoor advertising companies must register with the city. OACs that break the law risk losing their licenses and, with them, the right to do business in the city. Unregistered advertisers, including building owners, are subject to stiff fines. The OAC registration period closed Nov. 26. Now that the mandatory registration period is over, the DOB has the authority to impose stiff fines on building owners who wrap their sheds in illegal ads and the outdoor ad companies that help them.

“It’s a valuable tool in our belt,” says Givner. “We hope that the new fines will deter illegal advertising.”

Several outdoor advertising companies are suing the City over LL31, claiming that the law violates their First Amendment rights. Even if the law survives the legal challenges, it remains to be seen whether the DOB will enforce it any more vigorously than the old laws.

However, the new law is grounds for cautious optimism. Perhaps the tough new rules will deter corporate graffiti artists from treating New Yorkers like a captive audience. Maybe landlords will think twice before turning a fast, private buck at the expense of the city landscape. And maybe, just maybe, the measure will help curtail the creeping commercialization of New York City that Scott Stringer calls, “the adification of New York.”

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

New York City's Struggle to Take Down Illegal Billboards

This article, written by Elizabeth Dwoskin, will appear in tomorrow's issue of The Village Voice. PublicAdCampaign is mentioned as part of a group of renegade artists and individuals attempting to aid the DOB in its uphill battle with the major outdoor advertising groups in NYC. Enjoy

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Construction Site DOB law

For the longest time I have wondered whether or not the rampant posting of advertisements on outdoor construction site walls was somehow legal in NYC. Recently I had the opportunity to discuss this with a construction site manager who made me aware of the Department of Buildings rules and regulations on the subject. It is illegal to post advertising on the structures surrounding construction sites for companies other than those operating within the property. At a building construction site the only operational company is the owner of the property and the construction company, making all other posting illegal. I was then informed that despite this guerrilla posting being illegal, the responsibility of complying with DOB regulations regarding signage rest not on the company doing the postering, but the company managing the construction site. Perplexed by the absurdity of this fact, I remarked that "one would have to employ an individual full time just to remove this illegal imagery." My new friend laughed and then agreed, complaining, "I can't do that." I then walked out of my studio to get lunch and watched a man in broad daylight postering a construction site with Y-3 advertisements. Why are these companies, that are behaving in exactly the same legal manner a street artist would, not responsible for their actions? Why are these people doing the postering not treated like a graffiti artist would be in the face of the law? This is a clear instance of the corporate world being able to exercise a great amount of power over how public space is used, while individuals are pushed further and further to the margins of public space.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008 on 1181 Broadway

Some very important info has been posted on illagalsigns by Rami Tabello about the status of a billboard I called in which had already been deemed illegal and fined $15,000 but has yet to come down. Check it out at this link

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Illegal Billboards in NYC

After a lecture by Rami Tabello of Illegalsigns.caand Steve Lambert of The Anti Advertising Agency given at the Eyebeam gallery, I found a new way to vent my frustrations at the public advertising industry. I have spent the last few weeks walking around a few hours a week in search of what I believe to be illegal billboards in NYC. Along with many others, I found this advertisement which was not only illegal but which had been served by the Department of Buildings months prior to me laying eyes on it. I have called the DOB and complained that not only was the sign illegal but that it also had yet to be taken down after the DOB deemed it so. Here is an image of what it looks like and I will post an image of its removal as soon as that happens.

In the words of Rami Tabello, " An incompetent buildings department is just as bad as a corrupt buildings department."

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