By Scott Enman
It's not all smooth sailing for Ballyhoo Media, the company responsible for operating New York City's new 60-foot-wide advertising barge.
On Tuesday, Zachary Cater, corporation counsel for the New York City Law Department, sent a letter to Adam Shapiro, CEO and president of the Miami-based business, alerting him that he was breaking the law.
“There is sufficient cause to believe that Ballyhoo's operations in New York City violate the Zoning Resolution,” Cater wrote. “Therefore, we are writing to provide Ballyhoo with an opportunity to demonstrate, no later than Jan. 16, 2019, how it intends to comply.
“We suggest that until such compliance has been confirmed by the City, Ballyhoo not enter into any contract with an advertising agency or other client that would, if performed, result in a violation of the Zoning Resolution or other law.”
The vessel, which many residents have labeled an “eyesore,” has been seen traveling down the Queens and Brooklyn waterfront on the East River from Long Island City to Bay Ridge, as well as along the Hudson River. Advertisers have included the Brooklyn Nets, Heineken and “The Grinch.”
New York City’s laws prohibit “the display of an advertising sign on any vessel in a waterway adjacent to a residential, commercial, or manufacturing district and within view of an arterial highway.”
The boat and its 20-foot high, double-sided screen can be clearly seen from several roadways, including the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, Belt Parkway, FDR Drive and West Side Highway.
The letter notes that any violation of Zoning Resolution provisions is a misdemeanor that is subject to criminal fines and civil penalties, which can be as high as $25,000 per violation, per day.
Shapiro, however, denied that his company was breaking any laws. “Ballyhoo Media is legally operating based on all current zoning resolutions,” he said. “We plan to work with the city to resolve the matter shortly.”
Residents who routinely escape to the waterfront for peace and relaxation have complained that the bright lights and tasteless advertising have ruined their scenic views.
“They're tacky and an eyesore,” said Bay Ridge resident Liz Donohue. “I go for a run along the promenade because the water and the ships slowly coming into the harbor is relaxing. Having a bright LED advertisement skirt the shoreline is distracting.”
Councilmember Justin Brannan echoed Donohue’s complaints and added that the massive flat screens are also a safety hazard.
“At a time when every square inch of our world feels like it’s covered in advertisements, visual pollution is a real thing, and our waterways should be off limits,” Brannan told the Eagle. “New York Harbor is not Times Square.
“A massive floating LED barge is not the same as the old crop duster flying over Jones Beach telling you to try the fried grouper special at the local seafood shack. These LED barges are not only ugly, obnoxious and illegal, but they are dangerous to already often-distracted drivers.”
The company, which claims to be "revolutionizing outdoor digital media on the water,” has been producing floating static, animated and video messages since its inception in 2016. In addition to their New York-based barge, Ballyhoo also operates a barge in Miami, which can be seen off the coast of Miami Beach promoting club nights and upcoming DJs.
Former Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez tried to ban the floating billboards in 2017, but later found out that the city did not have the authority to do so.
Brian Kaszuba, chairman of Community Board 10’s Zoning and Land Use Committee, said that while he doesn’t have a problem with a handful of the barges roaming about, he would hate to see the harbor become “flooded” with them.
Additional reporting by Meaghan McGoldrick.