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NYC sues to keep ‘Times Square-style’ floating billboards off waterways

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The massive LED displays have been sailing along the Hudson and East Rivers since last fall

Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

If you’ve noticed—and fumed over—the uptick in barges carrying massive digital advertisements along the East and Hudson Rivers in the past few months, you’re not alone. The floating billboards have garnered plenty of attention, not much of it positive, since they starting bobbing along New York’s waterways; and now, the city is seeking to put a stop to it.

The de Blasio administration announced today that has filed a lawsuit against Ballyhoo Media, which operates those barges, charging that not only are the displays a nuisance, they also flout the city’s zoning laws—specifically, a provision that “prohibits the operation of advertising signage in waterways adjacent to any of the three major types of zoning districts in the City—residential, commercial, and manufacturing—and within view of any major highway or bridge,” per a release from the city.

Ballyhoo’s NYC route starts on the Hudson River side of Manhattan and travels over to the East River side, passing the Brooklyn Bridge and other major highways and bridges along the way.

On the public nuisance side of the things, the city’s lawsuit also claims that Ballyhoo’s ads are “posing a safety hazard to drivers and others,” and “significantly degrade the view enjoyed by those using parks and other public space along the water and the waterways themselves.” The city is seeking an injunction to stop Ballyhoo from running the ads, along with unspecified damages.

“Our waterways aren’t Times Square,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “These floating eyesores have no place on them.”

Ballyhoo began running its floating billboards in New York City last fall, after launching in 2016 in Miami, where their legality has also been challenged. They quickly gained a reputation here as a blight on the waterways, and lawmakers sought ways to get them off the water soon thereafter.

For its part, Ballyhoo says that it consulted with legal experts before launching in New York, and believes it’s within its legal rights to continue what it’s doing.

“Advertising along the city’s waterways is not new activity, Ballyhoo just happens to be the newest. We love the waterways and have developed this platform to be an asset to the community,” Ballyhoo’s CEO, Adam Shapiro, said in an emailed statement. “Ballyhoo has proven to provide unique, one-of-a-kind experiences that has been received with overwhelmingly positive community support. We are confident that New York City will see the value and excitement we bring to the waterfront.”