The view from Phnom Penh’s riverside began a transformation yesterday as the first of the five massive billboards that will line the Tonle Sap river’s east bank was finished. The tranquil panorama of the Chruoy Changva peninsula is now punctuated by an advertisement for a Japanese bathroom materials manufacturer.
Small-business owners on both sides of the river yesterday criticized the arrival of the 15-by-50-meter billboards, saying they would diminish property values and showed the municipal government’s lack of care for the peninsula’s residents.
Three of the billboards—advertising Inax sanitation, Kansai paint and the mobile telephone service providers MFone and Hello—will be erected in time for the Water Festival on Saturday, according to Chhorn Buncheon, assistant to the general manager of Moon Media, which is renting the space.
“It was hard to get a license from the municipality, but we did because we have a good relationship with them,” said Mr Buncheon, adding that his company had previously attempted to place billboards in front of the Royal Palace, but had been turned down “because that is where the King sits.”
The billboards, which took roughly three weeks each to construct, will be lit up at night and rented for $70,000 dollars a year, said Mr Buncheon—the fourth will host an advertisement for the mobile service provider Beeline, and the fifth is, as yet, unclaimed.
Municipal Director of Commercial Advertising Chin Por said yesterday that he did not know how much Moon Media was paying the municipality annually to maintain the billboards.
“I don’t have much information, but I think it is a good thing when the owners of companies advertise their products on billboards,” said Mr Por.
Mr Por added that the land on which the signs were constructed belonged to Sok Kong, chairman of the Sokimex Group, who could not be reached yesterday.
“These billboards are destroying us,” said Piotr Wajdcik, the marketing manager for VTrust Properties, which has a long-term lease on an apartment building almost directly behind the billboard finished yesterday. “Obviously, our selling point was the view of Phnom Penh, so now we have no selling point.”
Mr Wajdcik said he was initially unconcerned about the construction taking place in front of the building because he was told similar constructions were often built for the Water Festival and then dismantled. On learning the billboards would be permanent, Mr Wajdcik was fatalistic.
“We don’t want them there, but what can we do?” he said.
Ian Woodford, the owner of Maxine’s Bar on Chruoy Changva, reacted more angrily.
“First, they had metal fences up, and now there are these things and it just goes to show how little the municipality cares about Chruoy Changva,” said Mr Woodford.
According to Mr Woodford, the municipality never consulted with locals, who were hoping that someone might be erecting temporary movie screens for the Water Festival. Mr Woodford pointed out that billboards erected several years ago on the peninsula were eventually taken down for aesthetic reasons. The two 9-by-20-meter billboards advertising Sharp Electronics and Suzuki were taken down due to negative public reaction in 2001. Chea Sophara, then the city’s governor, said the billboards had been erected merely as a “test.”
“I don’t know why the people of Phnom Penh would want to look at that,” said Mr Woodford.
Muth Sareth, operations manager at the Bopha Phnom Penh Restaurant, which now has a sweeping view of the advertisement, said yesterday that his customers “have already started to ask how the people on the other side of the signs can live like that.”
Mr Sareth said the intrusion of the billboards into his restaurant’s view did not bother him too much, a reaction echoed by Douglas Moe, the resident manager of The Quay hotel overlooking the Tonle Sap.
“The city is changing every day. Something is always going to happen,” said Mr Moe. “Instead of seeing nice buildings and trees like the original plan, now we will see advertisements. But the bigger problem for the riverfront will still be the traffic and the noise.”
Deputy Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong declined to comment yesterday and governor Kep Chuktema could not be reached.