The new palette for artistic expression and informing the public about city services in St. Peters could be as close as that clunky metal traffic signal box at city stoplights.
Alderman Dave Thomas (Ward 1) suggested that the traffic boxes, which contain switches that control the lights at an intersection, could become used for advertising, a place to put up poster art for promoting city services or events or as eye candy for drivers.
The boxes, which can be as large as 6 feet tall, are used as a place for public art in places like Seattle, Tampa, and locally in St. Louis, Manchester and Clayton. The signal boxes sit on city rights-of-way.
Thomas told aldermen at the Board of Aldermen work session on Aug. 13 that one of his reactions to seeing examples in the area was that the space could be sold.
“They could be a great revenue source,” Thomas said.
He said the city could charge, say, $500 for placing art on many of the 81 traffic signal boxes in the city. About three-fourths of the boxes could be considered prime locations and the remaining 25 percent might be appropriate for artwork.
While the option of making money from the boxes is intriguing, Thomas said opening up the boxes for private advertising might not be the best idea. On the other hand, using them to share information about parks and other services, and as a venue for local artists for beautification might be more viable, he said.
“For our community and to share information about what’s going on, the opportunities are endless,” Thomas said.
He acknowledged that if the boxes were offered to private advertisers the city might have limited authority to regulate what messages are placed on them.
“I don’t know if I’m interested in that,” he said.
City Attorney Randy Weber echoed, “You don’t control content.”
Mayor Len Pagano said the city has looked at other signage in the past – “from gorillas to flags”– but hasn’t taken action on those proposals. He said a lot of staff time has been devoted to those ideas, but that the board could do as it wanted.
Several board members liked the idea.
“I really think, Dave, you’re on to something here,” said Board President Jerry Hollingsworth (Ward 2).
Hollingsworth, however, wasn’t enthused about the city selling advertising on the boxes, saying someone on city staff would have to sell the space and staff is busy now with other things. The only market for advertising may be small local businesses – national advertisers and stores probably would not be interested, he said.
Hollingsworth, Thomas and Alderman Patrick Barclay (Ward 4) liked the idea of advertising park facilities such as the St. Peters Rec-Plex, advertising city events and/or allowing local artists or art students to use them. The artwork could be regulated by the city, they agreed.
Thomas said instead of having someone paint at the box in the middle of traffic, the art or logos could be produced on a vinyl sticker that could be placed on the signal box and removed easily.
Aldermen Judy Bateman (Ward 2) and Mike Shea (Ward 3) had reservations about the boxes.
“It’s a little nervous to me,” Bateman said. A brightly decorated signal box may be another distraction for drivers at a traffic signal, particularly at time when there are a lot of distracted drivers in the city, she said. “People are not paying attention.”
“I echo Alderman Bateman’s concerns,” Shea said. “I see a lot of aggressive driving.”
Ultimately, Thomas asked that city staff call local cities that have painted traffic boxes to gather more information and see how much it would cost to paint the boxes. No timetable was given for when staff would report back to the board.