Ottawa street furniture plan hits snag

Ottawa's plan to rid sidewalks of unattractive street clutter is facing delays after the city rejected the lone bid it received for the project.

Ottawa's plan to rid city sidewalks of unattractive street clutter is facing delays after the outdoor advertising companies expected to partner in the project have virtually ignored it.

The Integrated Street Furniture Program aimed to beautify city sidewalks by replacing the jumble of benches, bus shelters and newspaper boxes with more attractive, homogeneous street furniture.

The program was also expected to bring in additional revenue — as much as $1 million a year — for the city.

In 2008, the city started looking for outdoor advertising firms to submit bids to provide the furniture and split ad revenue with the city.

However, the advertising and promotional agencies expected to partner in funding the proposal have all but ignored it.

The only bid the city received was deemed "non-compliant" and the competition was cancelled.

"There were three companies that were looking at it seriously, only one actually put a bid in and their bid didn't include everything, so it, in fact, had to be rejected," said councillor Marianne Wilkinson.

Industry insiders, who did not want to be named, told CBC News the city was naïve and its expectations were too high.

The first-class, durable furniture the city was looking for would be too expensive, they said, and there would be little profit to share.

A letter sent to some Ottawa councillors by a major advertising firm said, "the revenue cannot even come close to covering the capital costs."

The city is now going back to the drawing board.

In a memo to councillors, deputy city manager Nancy Schepers said the city would consult with the industry and revise its expectations.

The city is expected to put out two separate calls for proposals — one for the design and construction of the street furniture, which the city will pay for itself, and another for the advertising.

A new call for proposals on the street furniture alone is expected to be issued within the next eight months.