Photo: City of St Petersburg

“Mayor Rick Kriseman wants to bring digital information kiosks to downtown. But some business owners and council members aren’t sure those digital displays fit the city’s vibe…

The touch-screen kiosks are a hybrid of a mall directory and a giant smartphone. Depending on the brand, the rectangular devices can stand up to 8 feet tall. They display a mix of information, including events, restaurants, transit maps, public safety alerts — and, yes, advertising.

Some business owners wonder if the kiosks will add another layer of signage to downtown that would distract patrons with flashy advertising — or perhaps even change their minds about perusing local businesses.

‘The small businesses have long expressed concern that there could be an advertisement outside their store promoting a competing business,’ said Tami Simms, former president of the St. Petersburg Downtown Business Association…

City staff briefed council members on the idea during Thursday’s meeting of the council’s budget, finance and taxation committee. Council member Gina Driscoll said she’s already heard concerns from constituents who believe the extra signage will be more of a distraction than an asset.

‘There are so many other ways people can get information about the city,’ Driscoll said. ‘(Business owners) would rather be directly engaged than having something else that prevents someone from walking into a store.’

The kiosks would mix local information with paid-advertising, which would cover their cost and spare taxpayers the expense. Deputy mayor Kanika Tomlin said it’s still unclear how much advertising would be displayed. The amount of ads shown varies between the different companies offering kiosks…

Former City Council member Jeff Danner criticized the proposal on social media prior to Thursday’s meeting. He said the positive aspects of the kiosks — informing locals and visitors about events in the city — could be overshadowed by digital advertising. And what if that advertising was being driven by corporate franchises instead of locally-owned St. Petersburg businesses?

‘We do not want or need to open our beautiful pedestrian corridors to corporate advertising,’ Danner wrote. ‘Keep St Pete the special unique place it is.’

Kriseman, who has used the kiosks in Denver and Kansas City, insisted that the kiosks’ digital information would still be focused sending people to local businesses.

‘If anything, I think it will be great for local businesses,’ Kriseman said. ‘The purpose of this is to communicate … the advertising is almost an afterthought.'”

— Caitlin Johnston,Times staff writer

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