City officials say the cost in labor and equipment of installing promotional banners on city light poles far exceeds the fees the city collects.

A light-pole banner on Green Bay Road — one of many around town.

City officials say the cost in labor and equipment of installing promotional banners on city light poles far exceeds the fees the city collects.

Public Works Director Suzette Robinson told aldermen on the Administration and Public Works Committee this week that it costs the city close to $210 to install one banner — while it receives only a $35 permit fee from the organization requesting it.

In addition, the city pays for many of the banners through economic development grants to neighborhood merchant groups.

Robinson also voiced concern about risk of injury to city workers erecting the banners on busy streets and potential liability issues if a falling banner caused a traffic accident or injured a pedestrian.

City Attorney Grant Farrar said he didn’t have any hard statistics about the legal risks “but there’s always a potential for liability.”

And Robinson said leaving banners up all year — the practice now — leads to having them look worn and tattered and increases maintenance runs for removals and replacements.

She suggested only displaying banners from May through October, limiting their use to city-sponsored events and banning them from heavily-travelled four-lane streets like Green Bay Road and Ridge Avenue.

But committee members raised a number of objections.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she doesn’t like banners herself, but thought major institutions in town — like St. Francis Hospital should be able to use such banners to promote themselves — even on busy streets like Ridge — at least as long as they hire a private company to put the banners up.

“Maybe the city should get out of the banner business itself, except for economic development projects,” Rainey added.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said he thought individual businesses — like Chicago’s Home of Chicken & Waffles on Dempster Street in his ward — should be able to put up banners.

But Robinson said that part of Dempster is controlled by the state transportation department, which probably would not permit advertising for a private business.

And she noted that the city doesn’t have any policy now about restrictions on the content of banners. Farrar said there’s no free speech right of unlimited access to the poles — so the city could impose any reasonable restrictions it chose.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said Green Bay “offers great visibility from commuter trains.” She suggested scheduling banner maintenance “so it doesn’t hit prime travel times.”

One of the new 150th Anniversary signs.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that promotion of business districts could be handled by metal signs — like those recently erected to mark the city’s 150th anniversary.

He said a new sign policy would be coming before the city’s Transportation and Parking Committee soon.

Bobkiewicz said that signs would be much less expensive for the city to install and maintain than banners, and “Green Bay and Ridge are lovely streets without banners.”

“The city funds lots of banners,” Bobkiewicz added, and “those dollars are a scarce resource.”

Banners, he suggested, should only be used to promote something special, “and we seem to be getting away from that.”

He said staff would return to the City Council with a revised banner proposal soon.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. A chance to make money for a change?

    These banners seem like a really good way for a business to advertise. Given the cost of sponsorship for other City events (e.g. CommUNITY Picnic, Lakeshore Arts Fest., etc.), it seems like a no-brainer to make banners into a money-making opportunity for the City.

    1. Banners add to distraced driving

      I think these banners flying from the light posts along the roads cause another distraction for drivers. Most are hard to read as you are driving anyway. Perhpas a bettter plan would be to do away with them. Seems the cost of these came up before perhaps a few years back.

  2. What!

    You got to be kidding me, $ 210/banner! If the city is putting up its own banner, it should stop wasting taxpayer dollars. If the city is putting up some other groups banner, the group should pay the entire cost plus $35. If the city is saying it cost $ 210, somebody is lying or getting a kickback. Does one person put up the banner and four others turn the light pole.

  3. Seems about right

    Think about it. $35 to put up a banner is wildly out of whack; $210 doesn't surprise me at all. After all, you need some sort of lift to put one up and the people to man the controls (at least 2). I suspect traffic cones have to be put up as well and it probably takes at least an hour (travel time, construction). We have expensive workers in Evanston after all.

    I wonder how many of these are in Evanston? Then we could discover just how much the city is spending to subsidize the sponsors of the banners and what the lost (and now found) revenues are. Make it an even $250 – let's at least not lose money here.

  4. It costs the city

    It costs the city (taxpayers) $210 to install one banner.  So it probably costs taxpayers the same $210 to uninstall one banner. Either raise to charge to recover costs or stop the program. why are taxpayers paying for a business's advertising costs.

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