LARGO — Commissioners voted 6-1 on April 16 to address the “great blackout of 2019” when they signed off on a $100,000 contract with a vendor to repair and replace several inoperable LED signs at facilities around the city.
According to Communications and Marketing Manager Kate Oyer, five of the city’s eight LED signs are no longer working as a result of dubious practices — and subsequent bankruptcy — of the city’s previous vendor, Suncoast LED Displays based out of Clearwater.
The problem was first discovered last year during inspections of a new sign at the Central Park Performing Arts Center.
Oyer said the inspector noticed the UL certification sticker on the back of the $30,000 sign that was funded by the Suncoast Performing Arts Foundation had the corner pulled up.
“It turned out that the UL sticker was, I don’t know if the right word is fake, but it wasn’t real,” she said.
It meant staff couldn’t close the permit or turn the sign on, so they went back to the vendor, who quickly went out of business.
“Unfortunately, that vendor was also the one that would do all the maintenance on all of our other LED signs across the city at mostly the recreation facilities,” she said. “And I’d say that’s has caused the great blackout of 2019, because little by little one turned off, another turned off and we had no one to call to repair them.”
More bad news arrived when the city had other vendors check out the signs.
“They realized they were made and piecemealed from parts that were not industry standard,” she said. “Some of the parts, they said, they have never even seen before, and they don’t even know how they got them turned on.”
After putting out a bid for a new vendor, staff settled on Signs Plus, a Sarasota-based family-owned business that has been in operation for more than 30 years and who also maintains signs for the city of Pinellas Park.
City Manager Henry Schubert said the city looked into legal recourse against the previous vendor, but couldn’t proceed because it went bankrupt.
Upgrades for recreation facilities
Signs Plus has plenty of work to do.
The sign at the Performing Arts Center was never permitted or never turned on. Oyer said it would take a significant investment to potentially repair it, so a 11-by-6-foot replacement will cost $40,000, which includes a five-year parts and labor warranty.
She added that the signs at Highland and Southwest recreation complexes, Northeast Park and Bayhead Action Park are also inoperable.
“When we opened up that (Highland’s) sign, the modem’s so old you can’t get parts for it,” she said. “They even looked on eBay and they don’t exist any longer.”
The sign at Highland will cost $21,000 and the one at Southwest will cost $23,000.
In an effort to potentially save $45,000, staff suggested not using LED signs at Northeast and Bayhead and instead just replacing the signs and facing for a cost of $11,000 and $5,000, respectively.
Oyer said she hopes the savings can go toward the future replacement of signs for Central Park on East Bay Drive and Seminole Boulevard.
Commissioner Curtis Holmes, who voted against the contract, said the city could save even more money if it took an alternate approach.
“Why don’t you just buy some big-screen HD televisions and put them inside a weatherproof container that’s ventilated?” he asked. “I mean, for a couple thousand bucks, you could buy a really, really nice HD television, and you’ll get a better picture than an LED sign. And if it burns out, you just throw it away and buy another one. For $40,000, you could buy a lot of them.”
Recreation, Parks and Arts Director Joan Byrne said the city actually tried that at one point at the Central Park playground, but it didn’t work out.
“After multiple repairs and replacements, we concluded that that was not a good solution,” she said.
She added that LED signs are better designed to address vandalism. A point echoed by Commissioner Jamie Robinson, who said any glass container can be broken or scratched and would need to be replaced.
A second and final public hearing on the $100,000 budget appropriation will be held May 7.
In other news
• Largo Fire Rescue Chief Chad Pittman recognized a pair of employees for their efforts this past year.
George Olivera was named Firefighter of the Year and Fire Inspector Ron Kinsey was named Fire Service Professional of the Year.
• Also honored were several Public Works employees who participated in the Solid Waste Association of North America State and International Equipment Road-e-o in which drivers compete against each other, demonstrating their skills and abilities.
Those recognized were Shauwn Clark, Andrie Bonney, Tim Voorhees, Leonard Perri and Logan Smith.
Clark and Bonney, who captured first place at the event, will be representing the state and city at the SWANA international competition in Phoenix in October.