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Interest surfaces as sign floats

A man's demonstration of advertising amid the waves has some businesses reaching for phones as officials pore over rule books.

By STEPHEN HEGARTY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2000


photo
[Times photo: Fred Victorin]
Motorists drive by Mark Maksimowiz's boat and sign near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
As advertising sales pitches go, Mark Maksimowicz's sign is as old-school as they get. He's got a big black-and-white sign with bold letters that reads: "Your ad here." It's where the sign is and how outrageously visible it is that gets Maksimowicz plenty of attention.

Maksimowicz has displayed his sign from his 28-foot pontoon boat, anchored a few yards off some of the Tampa Bay area's most well-traveled bridges. On Tuesday, he was off the side of the Howard Frankland Bridge. On Wednesday, it was the Sunshine Skyway.

Thousands of bay area motorists have seen the sign. That, of course, is the idea.

"People are beeping at me all day long, and people are calling the number" on the sign, said Maksimowicz, who calls his new business Sea Signs. "I'm out here fishing and I'm doing something productive, so long as the calls keep coming."

Maksimowicz, the former operations manager at the Florida International Museum, said he has gotten calls from a pest exterminator, a radio station, a beer company and several other businesses that want to put advertisements on his sign.

He hopes to attract enough advertisers so he can have three pontoon boats in operation along Pinellas County beaches and off Tampa Bay bridges.

The longtime Pinellas County resident said he has called the city, county and state offices that might regulate such an enterprise to get approval. The problem is, the idea of floating advertising seems to be unique enough that government officials are not quite sure what to do with him.

"This is a new one," said Will Davis of the Pinellas County Office of Environmental Management. "Anybody you call is probably going to say it's someone else's jurisdiction. We'll have to look through the sign code and see if we have anything that regulates it."

The city of St. Pete Beach declined to give its blessing when Maksimowicz appeared before the City Commission. Director of Planning and Development Chris Brimo said the city prohibits certain kinds of advertising, but he said "this one's kind of a gray area."

An officer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission visited Maksimowicz on his boat Tuesday after a complaint but determined the sign violated no law.

"There are no state laws that prohibit this, so long as it doesn't interfere with navigation," said Capt. Calvin Adams of the Commission's Bureau of Marine Enforcement.

Regardless of whether the enterprise passes legal muster, a few motorists object for purely aesthetic reasons.

"I almost drove off the bridge when I saw it," said Diana Leavengood of St. Petersburg. "It may be legal, but are you going to pollute my bay with advertising now?"

Leavengood saw Maksimowicz's sign on Tuesday as she was headed to Tampa.

"On U.S. 19 you've got that visual blight and you take it on the chin because it's always been there," Leavengood said. "But this is the bay, where there are no billboards or anything."

Maksimowicz said he's making the best use of his time as he spends hours on his pontoon boat on the other side of his "Your ad here" sign. He sits in a captain's chair with a big straw hat, fishing and scanning the shallow water.

"I clean up a lot of the trash in the water," he said Wednesday. "I fill up a couple of Hefty bags every day."

Maksimowicz said he plans to catch some fish, and some advertisers, along the Howard Frankland Bridge again today or Friday.

-- Staff writer Mike Brassfield contributed to this report.

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