Better-looking, bigger-buck bus benches for city?

The city of Minneapolis wants more money out of advertising on bus stop benches - and to upgrade the benches' looks.

The city now receives a $24 annual permit renewal fee on 700 benches, or $16,800 a year total, said Derek Larson, Public Works project manager. The city could get significantly more if it went to a franchise arrangement similar to its bus shelter contract.

The bus stop deal netted the city $127,693.46 last year, or more than $500 per shelter.

Larson said the bus shelters have more advertising space than the bus stop benches, but there are three times as many benches, meaning the city should be able to make more money than it does now.

U.S. Bench holds all 700 Minneapolis permits. It owns and maintains the benches and gets to sell advertising. Rollie Danielson said he and his late brother started the business, now in its 60th year. The city passed the bus bench ordinance in 1947, he said. U.S. Bench became the sole permit holder around 1960.

Danielson runs the company with his sons, Scott and Troy. It also has benches in nearly 60 other metro area communities, he said. He did not know about Minneapolis' plan to end the permit system and start a franchise system until contacted by a Southwest Journal reporter.

"The licensing system has been good for the city," he said. "They have had no problem with this for this many years. None."

Danielson said the company would learn more about the proposal and comment at the appropriate time.

City staff plans to present more details on the bus bench franchise at the Sept. 27 Transportation and Public Works Committee meeting. The City Council already has approved issuing a franchise Request for Proposals (RFP), with a target date of Dec. 31 for a new deal.

Danielson said new benches cost approximately $500. That means if a new company got the franchise and had to start from scratch, it would cost around $350,000 to get 700 new benches.

The city also has received numerous inquires about how to improve bench design and aesthetics, the Public Works memo said. Larson did not have specific changes to suggest but said he would review other cities' programs for possible upgrades.

Danielson said U.S. Bench has upgraded its benches, including using heavier, more durable benches, adding wood grain and special anodized bronze moldings, instead of the old steel moldings.