The first round of a Yonkers billboard battle, about who actually owns the structure, has gone to Clear Channel Outdoor Inc.
The dispute is over a double-panel billboard on the roof of a Mavis Discount Tire store on Central Avenue, alongside Interstate 87 near Yonkers Raceway.
Clear Channel claimed in a May lawsuit that 777 CPA LLC refused to give it access to the roof to remove the sign. But 777 claimed that the Sassone family erected the billboard as a permanent structure in 1962 and has owned it ever since.
Justice Charles D. Wood of Westchester Supreme Court granted Clear Channel a preliminary injunction on Sept. 5, barring 777 from leasing the billboard to another company or from removing or altering the structure.
The building was designed to handle the weight and wind-load of the massive structure, according to an affidavit by Steven Sassone, 777’s managing member. It was meant to be a permanent structure, with steel support beams embedded in the roof and anchored to the walls.
The billboard was used by a tenant, and beginning in 1972, it was leased to a series of billboard companies.
Clear Channel’s lease began in 2003. When it expired at the end of May, the billboard company was paying $71,286 a year. Sassone said he has offers for $120,000 a year.
“I believe Clear Channel is trying to extort us into continuing to license them to use the billboard at an undermarket rate,” he said in the affidavit.
After the lease expired, he noted, Clear Channel continued to sublet the sign and collect money from a third party.
Sassone claimed that the family never sold the sign or conveyed title to anyone. Clear Channel, he said, merely had the right to maintain it.
An Internal Revenue Service advisory opinion depicted the billboard as a real estate asset, because it is a permanent part of the building and is not an accessory to the building.
Removing the structure, Sassone said, would damage the building.
Clear Channel responded that 777 “hopes to commandeer Clear Channel Outdoor’s valuable sign structure for its own purposes,” according to an affidavit by Daniel Crane, a company real estate representative.
Crane conceded that Clear Channel has no title to the billboard, but he said the license itself establishes the company’s right to remove the structure from the building.
The right to remove a sign structure at the end of a license, Crane claimed, is a fundamental provision of outdoor advertising agreements.
Clear Channel, he said, “should not be required to aid a competitor to leave that sign structure in place at the end of a license term.”
An experienced sign erector company has already evaluated the site and ensured that the billboard can be removed with minimal disruptions to the building.
In July, Clear Channel agreed with 777 to pay $10,000 a month – two-thirds more than the previous monthly fee – while the lawsuit is pending.
Wood found that Clear Channel met the burden of proof for issuing a preliminary injunction.
First, the license clearly states that Clear Channel owns the sign, establishing a likelihood that the billboard company will ultimately succeed on the merits of the case.
Second, Clear Channel established that it would suffer irreparable harm without the injunction, in that the Sassones plan to lease the structure to another company.
Third, the injunction is needed to preserve the status quo until the case can be decided on the merits.
Clear Channel is represented by Patrick J. Kilduff of Tarter Krinsky & Drogin in Manhattan. The Sassones are represented by Steven C. Bagwin in Hawthorne.
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