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Park advocates express concerns about city's push to place ads in public spaces

In an act of solidarity, park boosters will wear "I Heart Parks" shirts to make a statement against ad plan

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Earlier this month, city officials asked private businesses for a variety of ways to slap ads on all kinds of different public assets. Most city property was on the table: some buildings, parks, vehicles, and services. City Hall officials say they want to raise up to $5 million annually through these ads to help pay for a forthcoming $250 million infrastructure bond package. But they quickly faced a backlash from residents who were unhappy with the ideas of more ads.

Now city officials are holding a public meeting to explain the private ad proposal to residents and business owners. It will take place tomorrow morning at City Hall and will be the first opportunity for members of the public to get information, ask questions, and speak their minds about the city's recent push to monetize public assets.

Park boosters say they're planning to attend the meeting. According to Park Pride Executive Director Michael Halicki, his group will oppose the city's push to raise cash by selling private ads in public spaces. In an act of solidarity, they'll be wearing "I Heart Parks" shirts to make a statement.

Halicki tells CL the ad proposal ultimately could do more harm than good for the city. He says the city's preliminary proposal, outlined in a request for information, could potentially ruin the aesthetic of some parks, undermine philanthropic gifts from current corporate donors, and cause future park benefactors to reconsider making contributions.

For instance, he says the Home Depot Foundation, which regularly donates to the Piedmont Park Conservancy, could feel threatened if giant Lowe's ads popped up around the greenspace. (Full disclosure: the Home Depot Foundation has sponsored CL's Do Good campaign for the past two years.)

"There’s a difference between a discreet acknowledgement of a philanthropic sponsor and advertising," he tells CL. "That could disrupt the visual sense of a public space. The reason people go to parks is to get away from it all. You want to maintain that."

Mayor Kasim Reed spokeswoman Anne Torres tells CL that the RFI is expected to draw more responses for advertisements in commercial rights-of-way than for parks. But should an ad proposal come up for a park, Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Amy Phuong says respective conservancies would be involved in the ad approval process.

Torres also says advertising partnerships could help boost smaller parks and rec centers by providing them with more resources. It would have to happen in a way that complies with current park signage policies, she says - think a logo on a scoreboard or naming rights for a park program.

"We believe there may be opportunities to enhance existing parks and rec sponsorship efforts, particularly in non-conservancy supported parks — parks that don’t currently receive large private funds," Torres says.

The city's meeting will be held at City Hall in the Department of Procurement at 55 Trinity Ave., Suite 1900. Things could get interesting!