A new style of digital billboard may be a money-maker for North Riverside.

The towering, two-sided sign was erected at the corner of Cermak Road and First Avenue, in front of the Crossroads of North Riverside retail strip, in early May.

The sign, two-stories tall and as wide as a bus, has intrigued passers-by with crystal clear, animated pictures of fireworks, floating money and action-movie explosions.

In its calmer moments, the sign also flashes the local time and temperature, and a “Welcome to North Riverside” message from Mayor Richard Scheck.

However, only two companies have high-tech ads on the digital billboard; Gierczyk Inc., the Homewood-based development firm that erected the sign on its retail property, and the printing company Digital Hub Chicago.

Village Administrator Guy Belmonte said the sign installation was included in the property sale agreement with the developer. The contract stipulates that North Riverside will receive 50 percent of the advertising profits, he said.

“We knew they were going to put up the sign when we sold the property two years ago,” Belmonte said. “We also get to put community messages on it.”

The village bought the land from the Cook County Forest Preserve District in 1999 for $500,000 and sold it three years later to Gierczyk for the same price, Belmonte said. The property had long been a weedy, isolated, unused
parcel of Forest Preserve land, and the village was interested in acquiring more space for commercial development, he said.

“We’re land-locked, and we knew we wanted it for development when it went up for sale,” Belmonte said. “We can collect more in taxes from the property. I think that corner looks a lot better than before,” Belmonte said.

The Gierczyk family did not return phone calls for comment about the sign. Chuck Anz, a spokesman for the company, refused comment. The company advertises one of its developments on the sign.

Alan Sporelein, a partner at Digital Hub, the other company that advertises on the sign, said these digital signs are making traditional billboards obsolete.

“It’s now almost a lost art, they used to be drawn and hand-lettered,” Sporelein says. “It used to be the sign was only as good as the artist doing it. Now, you can take any file, even small pictures from your laptop, and blow them up and put them on the digital signs.”

Digital signs, once only a mainstay of major city intersections in Times Square and Tokyo, are now popping up at shopping malls, sports arenas and even street corners.

New technology and a boom in manufacturing competition, especially overseas, has pushed digital sign prices down, Sporelein said. The North Riverside sign likely cost less than $10,000.

“It’s become an emerging, billion dollar market,” he said.