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City may put ads on garbage totes to pay for replacing containers

Thousands of garbage totes in Buffalo would become curbside billboards under a program Mayor Byron W. Brown's office is expected to unveil soon.

City officials have been quietly talking with at least one sponsor who would foot the costs for buying replacement totes in exchange for receiving advertising space on the big blue containers.

Acting Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak predicted a deal could be announced soon with an undisclosed sponsor.

In the past year, after an unusual amount of breakage, the city has spent more than $500,000 to replace about 10,000 aging totes.

In a typical year, the city purchases at least 3,500 containers. Stepniak said the goal calls for getting advertising sponsors to offset all future replacement costs.

"It would be a cost savings to property owners. We're hoping it would help stabilize the garbage user fee," Stepniak said.

A Common Council member who has been prodding the city for five years to generate new revenue by selling ads on some city property praised the effort. North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. said he would like the program expanded to include recycling bins and even some city-owned vehicles.

"They wouldn't have to be gaudy," he said. "There's a way to do it so that it's tastefully done."

That's precisely what the Brown administration aims to do, Stepniak said.

"We want to do it slowly and get people to buy into the concept," he said.

The city might start by setting up a pilot program in specific neighborhoods, he added.

The tote ads, likely measuring about 2 feet by 2 feet, would appear on one or two sides of the container, Stepniak said.

Buffalo's last foray into the advertising arena was a flop.

In 2004, the city began selling ads on parking meters in some of its busiest commercial corridors.

Vandals damaged many of the ad modules, and other problems arose. The city pulled the plug on the experiment after about a year.

"Just because one idea doesn't work doesn't mean everything is going to fail," Golombek said in defense of selling ad space on garbage totes. "I'd rather take a chance and see if we can save taxpayers some money than do nothing at all."

Golombek noted that other cities have rented ad space on everything from vehicles and trash containers to public buildings.

Buffalo officials are gleaning information from other municipalities that have launched such ventures, said Peter K. Cutler, Brown's communications director.

Cutler said it's premature to discuss possible sponsors. He said he expects details to be announced within a month or two but stressed that any ads that appear on city-owned property would be "appropriate."

Catherine Hetzler of South Buffalo said she agrees that tote ads could be done in a way to avoid damaging aesthetics in neighborhoods.

But she wondered whether such promotions would be worth it to sponsors.

"We're bombarded with so much marketing now, I think people are immune to it," she said.


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