• Joe Mancino on Working With City Hall

    In addition to starting and running Chicago-based GreenSigns, Joe Mancino just finished 11 years as Mayor of Hawthorn Woods.  On this week’s podcast Joe gives tips for working with city hall and running a sustainable out of home advertising business.

    Tips for working with city hall.

    Joseph Mancino, CEO

    I’m going to start off with one that seems obvious but many forget.  When you’re dealing with city hall and you’re dealing with folks at the counter level the first thing you need to remember is be nice.  Be nice.  There’s a lot of entitlement out their in our industry…Just because you have the right to get a permit doesn’t mean they’re going to make it easy on your.  So be nice to these folks.  They work very hard.

    Always be straight with these folks.  It’s the staff and the professionals at the counter level that are going to get you through a permitting process.  It’s not the fact that you know the mayor or that you know the council person…in fact that is the worst thing you can do…you never want to go in for a permit dropping names of the mayor or names of other elected officials.  That immediately will get you to the back of the line.  There is a definite live between staff professionals and elected and you don’t want to mix them.

    Getting to yes with a city

    Municipalities look at billboard companies very different than they did 10-15 years ago.  We used to not be treated so well.  Billboards were considered a form of pollution.  Many folks didn’t like seeing signage going up.  It was reflected in how we were treated…That way of thinking really changed over the years and especially after the 2008-2009 real estate crash which cost municipalities tons of revenue.  Now they started to look at billboard companies as potential revenue…and they started talking with billboard companies about signage.  And many billboard companies missed that nuance…and didn’t have the tools…to work with the municipalities…

    At Greensigns we’ve had great success with a few local municipalities in doing billboards there that technically weren’t legal…we achieved a special use permit or some kind of amendment to allow the permit…we did it in a very different way than just going in for a billboard permit.  We went in thinking like a developer does when they are dealing with municipalities.  What can I do to help this municipality…When we approach a municipality we get educated about who they are.  What they are.  What they do.  We read their comprehensive plan…We approach them from a partnership and development perspective.

    I’ll give you an example.  We had a location in Rolling Meadows, Illinois where I had a lease for 10 years and we could not get a permit…The municipality had created a sign zone district on the opposite side of the highway that did allow billboards…I kept saying hey, if you just expand that zone over about 300 feet to this side of the highway I can do my sign, isn’t that great?  And they kept saying no…After some experience as a mayor I went back with a development proposal and I said look Rolling Meadows, this property has massive problems.  It is an old fashioned office complex.  Single story.  It has an occupancy of only 50%.  The parking lot is demolished.  It looks horrible.  It’s gravel.  It’s not even blacktop.  It has 150 dead trees on it that were killed by the Emerald Ash Borer…The roof needs to be done.  The AC needs to be modernized.  We went in with the property owner to the municipality and said look, if you can help us get a permit for this sign the property owner has committed to take the first three years of revenue and pour them right into his property.  He’s going to redo his parking lot.  He’s going to tear out all the dead trees and plant 100 new beautiful trees. He’s going to updated his roof and AC…We also offered a donation – an impact fee as well…Once we approached it that way it was a completely different story…It was received much, much differently…we were able to build the sign – a double sided 14 by 48 billboards.  We made the impact fee to the city.  We paid three years up front of rent to the property owner who immediately took the money and did what he said he was going to do…It was a complete win all the way around, because we didn’t go in just saying we want a billboard permit…we’ve duplicated that across the Chicago region.

    Tomorrow we’ll print Joe’s thoughts on running a sustainable OOH business.


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