Downtown billboards raise controversy

City officials do not want existing billboards in Crossroads Community Park in downtown Seymour to remain up and plan to continue to fight the matter in court.

The Seymour parks board and city council discussed the issue at separate meetings Monday.

To avoid further litigation, Lamar Advertising, which owns the billboards, has made a proposal to remove all of them if the city allows the company to put up a new two-sided digital billboard with the capabilities of scrolling multiple advertisers.

There are currently four two-sided billboards that face east and west along U.S. 50 and two single-sided billboards on the north side of the park that face south.

A new electronic sign would require a variance from the city’s board of zoning appeals.

Parks board member Zabrina Nicholson said the billboards are “hideous,” and she doesn’t support having them removed only to have a digital one put in its place. She said the bright and flashing lights of a digital billboard would be distracting during concerts and events.

Council members and the park board agree an electronic billboard would take away from the visual appeal of the park and could be a distraction for people at the park and motorists passing by on U.S. 50.

City attorney Rodney Farrow said the billboards were on a lease with previous property owner Dick Elmore that renews every five years.

When the 3-acre property was sold to GM Development in 2017 for $3.5 million in order to develop the park for the city, Mayor Craig Luedeman signed a letter asking Lamar to cancel the lease and remove the billboards.

“They said we didn’t have the right to do that,” Farrow said.

So the city sued the company to remove the billboards, but Lamar, which is based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had the case moved to federal court, where it is pending, Farrow said.

By continuing with litigation, the city risks losing the case, and the billboards will remain without being upgraded. But if the city wins, the billboards will have to be taken down.

The park is scheduled to open in July. Until then, the parks department is allowing grass seed to grow in order to complete landscaping.

The main attraction of the park is the new covered stage, which is being sponsored by JCB. The local bank is working on an agreement to name the stage the JCB Pavilion for the next five years.

That contract would include annual payments of $7,500, and then the amount would increase to $9,000 for an additional three years if JCB wants to continue the sponsorship, and then $10,000 for another three years for a total of 11 years.

The stage already has been reserved by Seymour Main Street for the annual CityJam concerts in July, August and September as well as a private employee event for Schneck Medical Center.

Another feature being planned for the park is a fitness court, which is being funded through sponsorships from Healthy Jackson County, Seymour Rotary Club and the Schneck Foundation. The court will feature different pieces of outdoor fitness apparatus for the public to use.