Council backs 2 downtown digital signs

Billboards on a Court Street building in downtown Watertown in 2019. State Assemblyman Mark C. Walczyk is working to get state approval for converting two Court Street billboards to digital signs. Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — City Council members on Monday voted 3-1 to support converting two billboards on top of a Court Street building to digital signs.

Last year, the state Department of Transportation decided it would not allow local businessman Jake Johnson to convert two standard billboards on his building because it would violate the federal Highway Beautification Act.

Councilman Ryan Henry-Wilkinson was the only council member to vote no.

Mr. Henry-Wilkinson said he was concerned about the aesthetics. “We don’t need any more advertising. As a consumer, I wish we had less of it.”

Assemblyman Mark C. Walczyk, R-Watertown, has been working behind the scenes to get state approval to allow the two LED signs on the building.

The City Council needed to agreed to the two digital billboards.

Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith asked for the resolution to be on Monday night’s agenda that encourages local state legislators to introduce legislation that will allow the LED signs.

Mr. Johnson, who owns multiple pieces of property in downtown, called the electronic billboards “a community asset” if the state allows them.

The digital signs would be “more efficient” than the two billboards on the building now, Mr. Johnson said. It now costs $700 and takes one to three weeks to have a crew to go up on the building to physically create the advertising messaging on them. That work could otherwise be done automatically “in a moment’s notice,” Mr. Johnson said.

The Highway Beautification Act was prompted in 1965 when there was a proliferation of billboards in the country and First Lady Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson wanted to limit them.

In other action, the City Council on Monday night agreed that Thompson Park should have a blueprint for the future.

Councilwoman Lisa A. Ruggiero requested a resolution for Monday night’s City Council meeting to direct staff to seek proposals for professional design services to complete a master plan for Thompson Park.

Councilwoman Ruggiero figured that the city should put together a plan for what else should go into the park in the future since one has not been done in 36 years.

Once a firm has been selected, the city will know how much it will cost to get the master plan completed.

In recent years, the splash pad, a renovated playground and the park pool has been redone. The former bathhouse for the old pool sits dormant and there’s been talk of creating an amphitheater in the park.

Councilmember Sarah V. Compo was not present for the meeting.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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