PLANT CITY – The city has ordered a Tampa company to remove 43 benches around town that advertise everything from insurance to pizza.
Commissioners voted 4 to 1 to terminate the city’s 35-year-old agreement that let Metropolitan Systems Inc. place benches on city rights-of-way. The company was allowed to install benches, as well as selling the advertising space on them, with the understanding it would donate some money to charity. In recent years, the company has made donations to the Plant City Lions Club.
City commissioners took a look at the benches after complaints from residents who said they were unsightly and too close to roads and sidewalks. The majority of the commissioners said the benches are rarely used and serve as little more than billboards. The company has 30 days to remove them.
Commissioner Mike Sparkman had harsh words for the Metropolitan Systems, which he said had misled the city.
“I think they are using the Lions Club or whoever to help themselves (financially),” Sparkman said.
Andrew Moos, who coordinates the benches statewide for Metropolitan Systems, said the company had been forthcoming with the city and supplied all the information requested, although not necessarily in a timely manner. He said he’s active in civic clubs and hated to see the Lions Club lose its revenue from bench advertising.
City Commissioner Bill Dodson cast the only dissenting vote. He asked for more time to negotiate with Metropolitan Systems due to the help it provides to the Lions Club.
Several Lions Club members were at the meeting to oppose termination of the contract. The club has received a total of nearly $15,000 since 2001, according to information the company submitted to the city.
Lions Club member Myrle Henry said every little bit of money helps the club pay for its charitable causes, such as eyeglasses for the poor.
“I personally have never heard one thing negative about the benches,” he said.
Commissioner Billy Keel, who has been active in the Lions Club, said he respects the club’s work but didn’t think it was wise for the city to have advertisements on benches in the public rights-of-way.
“I think it’s a bad idea,” Keel said.
Later he added, “I hate to see the Lions Club lose revenue,” he said.
The vote doesn’t impact city-owned benches, such as the ones in downtown’s McCall Park, that don’t include advertising.
Moos said while the agreement with the city was signed in 1978, the first benches were actually installed in the early 1950s.
Commissioners say they might consider new benches should the city ever again have publicly owned bus service. Public transit was offered from 2001 to 2008, when commissioners shut it down for lack of riders
Moos said his company would be ready to return to the city at any time.
“Our hope is to work something out,” he said.