This photo shows the proposed location, shown by the red lines, of a digital billboard to be built by Marco Outdoor Advertising. Credit: Orleans Parish Communication District

The board overseeing the Orleans Parish Communication District on Tuesday cleared the way — again — for Marco Outdoor Advertising to construct a digital billboard along Interstate 10 next to the city’s 911 call center.

The board voted in favor of two cooperative endeavor agreements for the site, which the Communication District has leased from the city since 2005. One agreement gives the building corporation and Marco access to the land; the other sets Marco’s rental terms.

Both votes were unanimous despite concerns from some board members late last year that Marco, whose president has contributed to Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s campaign fund, was getting a no-bid deal in violation of state procurement law.

As The Lens reported, Marco has argued that a decades-old contract obligated the Communication District to allow the billboard to be constructed:

Since at least 2010, Marco has insisted that putting the property up for bid would violate an agreement dating to 1982 between its predecessor company, Winston Network, and the Union Passenger Terminal. The original agreement gave the company the exclusive right to advertise along Union Passenger Terminal tracks. When the city acquired the tracks, it also acquired the agreement.

Tuesday’s vote was actually the second time the board has approved the deal. In December, board members authorized Communication District Executive Director Stephen Gordon to finalize and execute an agreement with Marco and the city.

But the December meeting announcement did not comply with the state’s open meetings law, leaving questions about the vote’s validity. State law requires that the agenda for a public meeting be released 24 hours in advance; this notice did not include an agenda.

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, board attorney Juan Lizarraga told The Lens by email that the reason for the new vote was that the terms of the agreement had changed, not because of the open meetings violation.

“The Board has decided to revisit the billboard issue since we had more time to work out the details of the CEA [cooperative endeavor agreement] and other aspects of the proposed billboard construction,” Lizarraga said. “In our opinion, the earlier meeting was properly noticed.”

However, during Tuesday’s meeting, Chairman Terry Ebbert said the board was voting again in part because “we want to make sure we’re in compliance with open meetings laws.”

In December, several board members and Lizarraga were so concerned that the no-bid deal violated state law that they said the Communication District should not receive any revenue from Marco.

Under the terms of the five-year deal approved Tuesday, however, the New Orleans Building Corporation, which develops public land for the city, will collect Marco’s rent and forward 50 percent to the Communication District. Unlike the Communication District, the building corporation is not required by state law to use a competitive bidding process for land leases.

The agreement does not say how much Marco will pay, and Gordon said his agency doesn’t know. A version of the lease from last summer set the minimum annual rent at $31,500.

Marco also agreed to give the Communication District display time of 30 days a year, or about 2 hours a day, and to turn over the billboard completely in the event of an emergency declaration.

The Communication District’s decision is subject to City Council approval.

Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado is the editor of The Lens. He previously worked as The Lens' government accountability reporter, covering local politics and criminal justice. Prior to joining The Lens, he worked for...