Clear Channel Sells Billboards, Gets Out of Tacoma

After years as the villain in Tacoma's ongoing fight to rid itself of unwanted and unsightly billboards, Clear Channel Outdoor is selling its Tacoma area boards.

In the deal announced Thursday, Lamar Advertising Co. of Baton Rouge, Louisiana would acquire Clear Channel's Tacoma billboards as part of a larger $485.5 million deal for its signs in the Seattle/Tacoma area and four other markets.

Lamar isn't exactly new on the scene: they used to own the billboards in Tacoma they are now buying back. Lamar acquired the signs back in 1998 - the early days of this whole mess, when Tacoma initially passed the regulations that should have seen billboards removed over the decade between 1997 and 2007.

In the early 2000s Clear Channel bought the signs from Lamar and others. This was a time when the signs should have been coming down in compliance with city code. Instead Clear Channel bought the signs, waited out that decade, then sued the City in 2007 for infringing on its freedom of speech (remember the "constitutions matter" campaign?).

Now, as the City of Tacoma prepares to finally enforce billboard regulations it has had on the books for nearly two decades, Clear Channel is getting out, and Lamar is back.

It doesn't exactly sound like Lamar plans to fall into line with regulations here; Lamar CEO Sean Reilly is being quoted describing his company's perspective on the acquisition of the billboards in the Seattle/Tacoma area, as well as Reno; Des Moines, Iowa; Cleveland; and Memphis.

“it wasn’t long ago” that the five markets were contributing $44 million a year to Clear Channel’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. “Give us a couple of years, and we’ll get back to there,” ... “These are premier billboard assets in attractive markets,” Reilly said. “Clear Channel did an outstanding job in the markets where the regulatory market was kind to them.”

Coming just as Tacoma anti-billboard advocates were beginning to feel a little hope about the prospect of enforcement action from the City, this deal changes the players, if not the game, and has a lot of people wondering - what does this acquisition mean for Tacoma?

Read background on the saga of billboards in Tacoma from Exit133, and find a detailed history from the Central Neighborhood Council, which has been fighting the anti-Clear Channel fight for years now. 

(Image: Chalk art by RR Anderson & Joel Larson.)

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T. Weber

I don’t get the constant uproar over billboards. Why shouldn’t business be able to advertise?  As long as the billboard company maintains the sign and is in compliance with the sign regulations, why try to run them out of town? They are a legitimate business just like everyone else.

January 13, 2016 at 7:21 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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By that logic, all zoning should go away - do economic rights trump quality of life rights or can there be reasonable regulation?  Obviously, as numerous neighborhoods in countless cities demonstrate, visual pollution can be regulated and billboards can be forced to be sited where communities agree it makes sense.  Which is not anywhere and everywhere.  Duh.

January 13, 2016 at 12:44 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Tim Smith

We voted to change the regulations in the last decade of the last century. The business failed to comply. The City has kicked the enforcement can down the road.

January 14, 2016 at 5:44 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Here is my suggestion: “de-criminalize” vandalization of billboards in the same way that Seattle de-criminalized marijuana in 2003, and encourage neighborhood residents to take back their neighborhoods.  I envision toppled billboards and billboards painted over with temporary murals.  LaMar and its advertisers will find that the cost to keep up with maintenance in a neighborhood where a billboard is clearly not wanted will exceed its income, and the billboards will come down.

The City can respond to them in the same way they respond to a kid whose bike got stolen: “Sorry, we simply don’t have enough officers to investigate this crime.  We’ll let you know if we hear anything.”

January 19, 2016 at 12:54 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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