Billboard Over Big Pun Mural Angers Fans

Some Bronxites are not buying whatever a new billboard on East 167th Street is selling.

The billboard, which was erected in June on the corner of Southern Boulevard, covers an 11-year-old spray-painted mural of deceased rapper and area native Christopher “Big Pun” Rios.

Lamar Advertising, which owns the billboard space, says it is legally permitted to maintain ad space there.

“I don’t like it,” said 54-year-old Hoe Avenue resident Altagracia Fernandez. “It’s not right, they need to take it down.”

Fernandez works at a beauty salon on East 167th Street, directly next to the now-covered mural. Her son worked as a chauffeur for Rios before the rap star died in 2000 as a result of his chronic weight problem.

Angry Big Pun fans started by making calls to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, a San Francisco-based educational nonprofit, whose ad had been placed on the billboard via the Ad Council.

Hispanic Scholarship Funds were surprised to learn of the placement of their ad, and quickly contacted the Ad Council as well as Lamar, the company that owns the billboard, asking that it be taken down.

Lamar obliged, but it has no plans to stop selling the ad space.

“It’s not going to happen,” said Peter Costanza, vice president and general manager of New York operations for Lamar. “It’s unfortunate that this mural is up there. We did everything by the books.”

The owner of the building that the billboard and mural are on did not return calls.

Nicole Rodriguez, Rios’ sister, has served as a caretaker of the Latino rap star’s legacy. She is currently campaigning to have Rogers Place, near East 163rd street, which also has a Big Pun mural, named after her brother.

Rodriguez and her brother were both grew up mainly in Soundview, but she now lives in Orlando, Florida. When the billboard went up, Rodriguez’s e-mail inbox started quickly filling up.

Castle Hill native Robert Roman was one of the first people to contact her.

“I’ve spoken to so many people that live in the Bronx and they’re all pretty much outraged,” said Roman, 28. “It’s kind of like a landmark for us.”

Rodriguez contacted Costanza, and he offered a free, temporary billboard in the Bronx, with her brother’s image on it. She declined.

“There is no price for something so meaningful,” she wrote in an e-mail.

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