The advertising barges that have become a pet bête noire for Lower Manhattan residents were the focus of a discussion at the April 23 meeting of Community Board 1 (CB1), where Paul Goldstein, who chairs that panel’s Waterfront, Parks, & Cultural Committee, offered an update, saying, “those floating billboards that you’ve seen on both the east and west sides — the good news is that the City is cracking down on them. Both the Mayor and the Council say they find it unacceptable. So they are imposing fines and enacting laws to restrict it.”
This was a reference to a pair of related developments. In March, the City Council began considering a new law that would boost fines for unauthorized use of local waterways for marketing purposes to $100,000. And in April, the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio filed suit in federal court, asking for an injunction barring Ballyhoo Media — the company that operates the 60-foot catamaran bearing an electronic sign capable of rendering high-definition, full-motion video, similar to the “jumbo-tron” panels that adorn multiple buildings in Times Square — from continuing to conduct its business in New York’s waters.
This followed a January development, in which the City’s Law Departmentserved Ballyhoo with notice that it was violating several laws that ban marketing signage along New York’s waterfronts or within line of sight of a major highway. The notice from the City gave the firm two weeks to comply with the relevant statutes, but the barge remained in operation.
The suit filed in April argues that, “dating to 1964, the water-based advertising restrictions, which apply to vessels in waterways adjacent to all major types of zoning districts and in view of major roadways, serve to protect traffic safety, preserve views of the water, and promote various recreational, cultural, and educational activities on the waterfront and waterways.” Court documents similarly continue, “the advertising restrictions are integral to protecting these public spaces and highways. Ballyhoo’s business model targets these areas by selling billboard space to clients seeking to promote their brands through water-based signs directed at drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, ferry passengers, and residents along the water. This business is squarely at odds with the law.”
Ballyhoo has responded with court briefs arguing that, “New York State has jurisdiction relative to the lands under the East and Hudson rivers,” and thus, “State legislation is required in order to authorize local legislative bodies to adopt and enforce laws that apply to these bodies of water. We are aware of no such legislation that would allow the City to apply its Zoning Resolution to these State-owned navigable waters.”
The company’s vessels travel a continuous circuit from the West Side of Midtown, past Hudson Yards, Chelsea, Tribeca, and Battery Park City, before turning into the East River and passing the Financial District, Brooklyn Heights, and Williamsburg.
Ballyhoo also operates a similar fleet of advertising vessels in Miami, where it has inspired a similar response from the public and elected officials. But the service appears to meet a significant demand among marketers, and the firm seems to have carved out a lucrative niche for itself. According to Digiday, an online trade magazine for online media, Ballyhoo charges clients as much as $55,000 to insert a 30-second video message into a two-minute loop and keep it in rotation for one month.
At the April 23 meeting, Bruce Ehrmann, who serves as co-chair of CB1’s Landmarks & Preservation Committee, asked, “what about the trucks that look just like that, with giant screens, and that’s all they do, driving around? Now that we’re discussing congestion pricing, this should be considered, because it’s the same thing.”
Mr. Goldstein replied that the issue of adverting trucks had not come before the Waterfront, Parks, & Cultural Committee, and suggest that CB1’s Quality of Life Committee might have oversight in this area.
While the City Council’s proposed new law and the de Blasio administration’s suit both proceed, Ballyhoo is mulling plans to add local beaches to its route this summer.
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