City of Savannah Wants Funeral Home Ads Removed

July 14, 2010
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imageAdvertising posted along a road that winds around the historic Bonaventure Cemetery to Greenwich Cemetery will have to be removed, Savannah officials say.

After weeks of fielding calls of protest about the ads, city officials reviewed property records and, last week, did a new survey of the road that connects the two city-owned, historically significant properties.

That review has determined the city, not the privately-owned Forest Lawn Cemetery, owns the road and the right-of-way where the signs are posted, Bret Bell, the city’s director of public information, said Monday.

“Our records indicate the signs are on city property, and we are in the process of contacting the cemetery owner,” Bell said.

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He said the city would expect the signs to be removed while any dispute to city ownership was under way.

Kyle Nikola, president of Bonaventure Funeral Home, said Monday the ad next to the Forest Lawn Cemetery sign might be on public right-of-way and, if so, would be moved.

Not so the other ads.

“I am a thousand percent sure the rest of them are on our property,” he said.

“We’ve always owned the road. We allow the city to use it as public right-of-way so people can get to Greenwich Cemetery.”

The funeral home and Forest Lawn, which is on the road between the two city cemeteries, are owned by the same parent company, Savannah Cemetery Group.

The funeral home’s ads posted along the road match its newspaper and radio spots, which have slogans such as “Steve was an avid golfer. So we made sure his funeral was up to par.”

They have proved upsetting to several visitors, who believe the road shouldn’t be lined with advertising.

“He’s commercializing death is what he’s doing,” said Ken Forbes, a Bloomingdale resident who two weeks ago picketed outside the main road at Bonaventure to protest the ads. “You wait, the day is going to come where the caskets and the hearses are going to have advertising on them.”

Savannah resident Susan Dixon called Bonaventure Cemetery and Forest Lawn’s owners after seeing the signs. She has relatives buried in Greenwich and Bonaventure and owns plots in Greenwich where she and other family members will someday be buried.

“I just think they’re in very poor taste,” she said. “I told (the owner) there are other ways to advertise.”

Dixon said she was excited and appreciative to learn city officials believe they have established ownership and will pursue removing the signs.

Until last week, city officials believed the road connecting the two cemeteries was owned by Forest Lawn and referred all calls there.

Jerry Flemming, the city’s director of cemeteries, said his office had received dozens of complaints from people who mistakenly thought the city cemetery was responsible for the signs.

Nikola has talked with a few other upset residents but said they “were totally fine afterward” once he explained the reasoning behind the advertising.

“I’m not trying to upset anyone,” Nikola said. “When I explain why, they understand it’s a necessary thing to have.”

When the Savannah Cemetery Group bought Forest Lawn in 2004, it learned Forest Lawn’s perpetual care fund was drastically underfunded, he said. The fund should have a principal of $10 million to ensure ongoing care for the 50-acre cemetery, he said, but Forest Lawn had less than $1 million.

The advertising brings business to the Bonaventure Funeral Home, which in turn can buy new equipment needed for the cemetery operation, Nikola said.

Source: Savannahnow.com

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