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Lamar wins bus shelter contract

| Thursday, March 11, 2004

Correction: Heffner Outdoor Advertising originally proposed providing 40 bus shelters in Ross at $850 per shelter. (03/11/04 at (;35 p.m.)

Bus shelters finally are coming to Ross, but not without a dose of controversy.

After mulling a plan to allow advertiser-funded bus shelters along Ross roadways much of the past year, commissioners voted to accept a bid from Lamar Advertising, which will pay nearly $2 million over 20 years to install 40 bus shelters.

The vote came after an attorney for Lamar questioned the propriety of the proposal process, which pitted the Baton Rouge-based advertising firm against a local competitor.

In a letter to Ross officials, Lamar attorney Jonathan Kamin questioned an addendum to a bid made by Lamar's competitor, Pine-based Heffner Outdoor Advertising. Kamin questioned whether Heffner was allowed to augment its bid after the proposal process had closed.

"We were trying to get some information about the other bid to make sure we were on a fair playing field," Kamin said.

Barry Heffner said his one-man advertising firm was outflanked by a larger competitor.

"Instead of sending our money down to Baton Rouge, they had a choice of either keeping the business local or go with a larger corporation," Heffner said. "The big corporation won the day."

Commissioner Chris Eyster said the controversy began when Lamar submitted an addendum to its original bid of $850 per shelter. That included adding a sidewalk in the neighborhood of a bus shelter at McKnight and Seibert roads, which Eyster had requested.

Heffner then sent in an addendum of his bid, which included an increase over his original proposal of around $750 to $905 per shelter, Eyster said. This led Kamin to send a letter questioning whether Heffner had been given an unfair advantage.

Heffner said his addendum was made in response to Lamar's.

"This was a clever effort on the part of a large corporation to make it look like something was wrong so they could get their way," Heffner said.

After an effort to have the bids thrown out and to re-open the bidding process failed Monday night, commissioners voted 4-3 in favor of the Lamar plan.

Eyster said he voted for Lamar because he liked the amenities Lamar promised, and he had questions about Heffner's ability to secure advertising.

Lamar's plan will put 40 bus shelters in the township at various locations, which will be decided by officials from Ross and Lamar.

Lamar will give the township $12,000 for improvements to local parks, as well as $40,000 of free advertising space, said Jim Vlasach, real estate manager for Lamar. Ross will receive additional money if Lamar exceeds revenue projections.

Lamar said his company employs 80 people in the Pittsburgh area and denies that the benefits of the contract will leave the region.

"Pittsburgh's our biggest market," Vlasach said. "We have several employees who live in Ross Township. Our contractor lives in Ross."

Freelance writer Tom Forgrave contributed to this report.

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