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September 06, 2016

PennDOT takes control of Market Street East Advertising District

Transportation Advertising
09062016_Lit_Bros_Building Bob McGovern/PhillyVoice

The historic Lit Bros. building, at Seventh and Market streets, boasts a 14-foot tall advertising board.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has been granted exclusive control over the commercial advertising district that permits digital signage on Market Street East in Philadelphia.

The Market Street East Advertising District permits developers to erect large, digital advertisement screens between Seventh and 13th streets. Created in 2011, the district gives developers the option of adding signage to buildings on which they make public improvements totaling at least $10 million.

Last year, PennDOT gained oversight of all outdoor advertising in the city except for within the Market Street East Advertising District. The Federal Highway Administration now has granted PennDOT control over that district, too. 

But the city says it still plans to handle all requests related to the Market Street East Advertising District — despite the FHWA outlining its reasons for handing control to PennDOT in an Aug. 23 letter from the FHWA to the PennDOT

Because the city failed to meet the conditions of the certification and was unresponsive to PennDOT's requests for information on the district, the FHWA determined that PennDOT was unable to meet a federal requirement to "periodically assure itself" that Philadelphia is effectively controlling outdoor advertising.

The letter informs PennDOT that the FHWA was placing "all parts" of Philadelphia's outdoor advertising oversight under PennDOT's exclusive control. The letter was published by Scenic Philadelphia, an anti-blight organization that opposed the formation of the Market Street East Advertising District.

Scenic Philadelphia, which considers outdoor advertisements to be blight, praised PennDOT being granted control.

"To date Philadelphia has lacked the resources and the political will to adequately control outdoor advertising and protect our streetscapes from visual blight," president Mary Tracy said in a statement. "Market Street East is a key part of our downtown and deserves the city's best consideration. It also deserves the protections included in the Highway Beautification Act."

Yet, a city spokesman said the Philadelphia remains in control of the Market Street East Advertising District.

"The City has been and will continue to be responsive to all requests on this matter, and we are in discussions with our partners at PennDOT to clarify the situation," said Mike Dunn, a spokesman for Mayor Jim Kenney's Office.

PennDOT officials did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The Market Street East Advertising District was intended to stimulate improvements along the corridor by permitting large, digital advertisements. The Philadelphia City Planning Commission approved the zoning bill creating the district. 

The legislation, sponsored by then-Councilmen Kenney and Frank DiCicco, was unanimously passed by City Council despite opposition from Scenic Philadelphia, then known as SCRUB, and the Preservation Alliance. 

The first digital advertisement board was illuminated last year atop the historic Lit Bros. building at 701 Market St.