PORTSMOUTH – Last month, 5th Ward Councilman Joey Sandlin spoke out against privately owned advertising benches within city limits. According to Sandlin, the benches – owned by Courtesy Advertising – attracted panhandlers, trash, and potential crime. He asked City Manager Sam Sutherland to look into the contract with Courtesy Advertising in an open session of city council to find out what could potentially be done.
“My experience with the benches started back in 2019 when I purchased a building for my business,” explained Sandlin. “I called and requested the bench on my corner to be removed. I was told the sign company had a contract with the City and that there was nothing I could do. So, I left it alone. But the entire time – on a daily basis – I had to pick up constant trash on the bench and in my yard.”
“About 6-8 months ago, I started to see panhandlers show up outside my business on a daily basis and sit on the bench.”
Sandlin told the council a story of how one panhandler attempted on that particular bench to rob his 17-year-old son.
“I was very upset after this. I came to Sam (Sutherland) and asked him to find the agreement with Courtesy Advertising. Sam was not able to come up with an agreement,” Sandlin said.
On Monday, a discussion item to address the benches was added to the City Manager’s Conference Agenda. Wade Bales, owner of Courtesy Advertising, was invited to speak about his business.
“The business was previously owned by my grandfather for 44 years,” explained Bales. “He served Portsmouth for many years…providing local businesses with affordable advertising. I took over shortly after his passing last year. Since then, we have turned the business into an LLC and grown it by approximately 15%.”
“As someone who owns multiple businesses in Scioto County, I too would love to see our area get clean. But to clean up our area does not mean harming small business. Our business provides local small businesses with affordable advertising. Removing these benches won’t only hurt my business, but other small businesses that advertise with us.”
In total, Courtesy Advertising owns 42 benches within Portsmouth City limits. According to Bales, only a small percentage are on city property. Unfortunately, he too has been unable to find a contract with the city.
“My grandfather was 83 when he passed,” said Bales. “When I took over, it was a complete nightmare. A contract does need to happen. I think with a business as old as this one…a lot of it came down to ‘good ole boy’ handshakes and agreements. In this day and age, it would be smart to come up with a contract.”
Other council members had issues with the benches as well, including instances of poor bench maintenance and upkeep, a high concentration of benches in certain areas, and misinformation concerning benches on private property.
“Since the bench has been removed from my corner, the panhandlers and trash are gone. I’m not having these problems anymore,” said Sandlin. “I’m not saying the benches cause this – but they are a convenience to panhandlers…And there are probably businesses that have benches on their property that want them removed, but cannot because they’ve been told there is a contract with the City.”
Mayor and 1st Ward Councilman Sean Dunne suggested rotating the benches out in favor of more aesthetically pleasing methods of advertising.
“You have 42 benches,” said Dunne. “Some need more maintenance than others. The City could be improved in certain ways, such as more wayfinding signs. They would be better than a bench…this could be something other than a bench that would do more for our city and community.”
“Your strongest argument is that you present an opportunity for small business to advertise. But, there could be a compromise on how you provide that service. In the 1st Ward, for example, that could range from way finding signs to public art to anything really. No one is having an informal chat on the corner of US 52. I don’t see why this advertising has to be in the form of a bench…I think what is a fair compromise between the city and you is to replace some of the benches that need help anyway with something else.”
Moving forward, council asked Bales to provide the location and conditions of the benches within city limits. They would also look into a potential contract and brainstorm bench alternatives.
Currently, a petition on change.org is circulating to keep the benches within the city. That petition has nearly 500 signatures.
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