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Photo: Mandi Albright/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: Mandi Albright/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Morrow leaders express skepticism in MARTA advertising discussions

MARTA may need to be a little more convincing if it wants the city of Morrow to sign off on a 50-year advertising contract with the transit agency.

Under the deal proposed, that’s what Morrrow would have to do just to get bus benches installed at the couple of dozen or so bus stops in the Clayton County city. At a work session Tuesday, Morrow leaders expressed reservations about that five-decade term.

In the agreement, Morrow would get half of the revenue from the advertising, but MARTA would have sole discretion over which bus stops would get the benches, what is advertised on them and if a bench is removed in the future. In addition, MARTA’s deals with advertising agencies last only 10 years, giving it more flexibility than the city to make changes over the coming decades.

“I’m concerned that everything seems to favor MARTA in this deal,” Morrow Mayor Jeff DeTar said.

Also at issue was language about who would be responsible for upkeep, with Morrow City Manager Sylvia Redic saying the contract “doesn’t obligate you to maintain the benches. That concerns me.”

The agreement, which MARTA is rolling out to cities across Clayton, comes as the transit agency has said it plans to improve its customer experience over the next five years by installing benches, shelters and other amenities at 1,000 bus stops in Atlanta and Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton counties.

That plan is particularly welcome in Clayton, which only has four shelters and a handful of benches, even though MARTA has operated in the county since 2015. MARTA pays for benches and shelters by selling advertising on them, but no company stepped up to advertise in Clayton when bus service was launched, the agency said.

Creative Outdoor America was brought onboard earlier this year to advertise in the county.

Virgil Fludd, MARTA’s assistant general manager of external affairs, told the council they will have more flexibility than they think. For instance, MARTA would understand if the city didn’t want an out-of-town competitor of a local business to advertise on a bench in Morrow.

“You have the right to say we don’t want to have an ad in that area,” he told the group.

MARTA has sought to have each of Clayton’s cities sign the same contract to have uniformity across the county, Fludd told the council. But if Morrow seeks a different agreement than its Clayton peers, it would not upend MARTA’s efforts to bring advertising to the county.

Chris Leighty, city manager for Lake City, said his community had no qualms with the agreement. Lake City, which is about 1.8 square miles in size, has around 10 bus stops and one bench that the city installed.

“Our mayor and council didn’t seem to have an issue with it,” he said. “We just wanted to support an initiative that is being rolled out across Clayton County.”

Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon said she is supportive of MARTA and any effort to improve service in Clayton. She won’t know, however, how the agreement terms will be received until leaders have a discussion with the transit service.

“I spoke with city manager and he said he’s contemplating it and will present it to the board,” she said. “No decision has been made yet.”

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