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Agencies Still Fighting Planned Digital Signs
The Northwest Current
By Mark Lieberman
August 31, 2016
City agencies remain locked in a battle with an outdoor advertising company over electronic signs that officials say have been posted illegally at nine D.C. buildings in the past couple of weeks.
Digi Outdoor Media secured permits for brackets and other sign materials for more than 50 signs at 20 sites across the city a few months ago. But the company and the building owners at the planned sites never applied for permits for the signs themselves before installations began across the city a week and a half ago, according to Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs spokesperson Annie McCarthy. All exterior signs in the city require a permit acquired through an application process, per the agency's regulations.
Upon seeing the posted signs, the regulatory affairs department has issued "stop work" orders at
each site, revoked the bracket permits and ordered that the signs and brackets be removed immediately,
Affected buildings include the Chevy Chase Pavilion at 5535 Wisconsin Ave. NW; George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs at 805 21st St. NW; 1 Thomas Circle NW; 1350 Connecticut Ave. NW; 2100 M St. NW; 1020 G St. NW; 4301 Connecticut Ave. NW; and 2850 New York Ave. NE. At 111 Massachusetts Ave. NW, a second stop-work order was issued eight days after the first one "for continuance of work with a stop work order in place," according to the agency's website.
A sign at 1101 Vermont NW, home of the Career Technical Institute, drew an even harsher response. The agency deemed that sign a safety hazard, cordoning it off and posting "danger signs" in addition to ordering the sign to be removed, McCarthy said. The sign is 6 feet tall, 18 feet wide, and about one story above the street.
"DCRA expects all businesses operating in the District to comply with the sensible safeguards required by law and to correct any conditions which pose a safety risk to residents," McCarthy wrote in an email to The Current.
The new signs would have had a difficult path to permitting, as current regulations place strict limits on the size of new advertising billboards and prohibit new signs on the side walls of buildings unless the wall is on a corner building that abuts a public street.
Digi Outdoor Media maintains that it has adhered to the law.
"Digi cooperated fully with permitting regulations, and all construction work was fully permitted with DCRA," a company spokesperson wrote in an email on Tuesday. "Digi Media cannot dis cuss specifics on those permits still under appeal."
The Current's attempts to reach the building owners for most of the sign sites were unsuccessful. One
owner, John Gordon of 4301 Connecticut Ave. and 1 Thomas Circle, said Digi had asked him not to
discuss the dispute with the press.
Officials at the regulatory affairs department met with the Office of the City Administrator and Digi representatives last Wednesday, but a solution is still in the works, McCarthy said. The Office of the D.C. Attorney General is also aware of the issue and working with the regulatory affairs department "to address and halt illegal activity," according to spokesperson Rob Marus.
In a separate decision, the Office of the City Administrator recently formalized an emergency regulation that requires any interior signs that are visible from the street to undergo permit review. Previously, interior signs more than 18 inches from a window were exempt from the process.
The emergency regulation, published last Friday, represents the latest in a series of efforts by City
Administrator Rashad Young to revise and clarify the District's signage regulations, which have been the subject of several attempted revamps in recent years. Young has convened a task force to address the issues, according to his general counsel Barry Kreiswirth.
The topic also may return to the D.C. Council in the coming months. Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh told The Current on Friday that she may propose legislation that could lead to a council hearing on the city's signage policies, though the committee that would handle such legislation currently lacks a chair.
"Maybe these regulations aren't strict enough," Cheh said. "The last thing I would want is all of these kinds of signs all around the District really materially affecting the aesthetics around the District."
Some others also have trepidations about signs like Digi Outdoor Media's. Patrick Kennedy, chair of
Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2A (Foggy Bottom, West End), said he's particularly concerned about the sign at 2100 M St. NW distracting drivers on a busy thoroughfare where a pedestrian
was killed on Aug. 19.
"I don't see why we need to add another visual distraction to drivers at that location given how dangerous it is and how many competing demands there are on people's attention," Kennedy said.
He has also heard complaints from residents of the 22 West condominiums across the street, who
are worried that the sign's bright lights will impact their sleep.
By Dave Westburg
September 2, 2016
Clear Channel Outdoor has sold its Rockford, Illinois plant to Key Outdoor. The transaction was brokered by Max Drachman of Kalilco & Co. Insider talked with Drachman about the sale.
How did this transaction come about?
Key Outdoor is one of the largest independent Outdoor operators in the Midwest. We are very close with the Dahl family and have worked on a number of deals with them over the years. They recently asked us if we could approach Clear Channel on Key's behalf to acquire their assets in Rockford and surrounding communities.
Fortunately, our firm sold approximately $500,000,000 worth of radio assets for Clear Channel prior to their going private a few years back, so we have a the right relationships and a great sense for "how they click."
Key Outdoor Market Coverage Before Clear Channel Outdoor Rockford Acquisition. Source: www.keyoutdoor.com
What was the rationale for the transaction by the two parties?
At the end of the day, the assets in question were simply worth more to Key Outdoor than CCO. Key's CEO, Bob Dahl, started the company in 1977, and has grown it to approximately 2000 faces in Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.
His daughter Angela has joined him at the helm, and they have made continuing their growth trajectory a priority for many years to come. The CCO inventory in the Rockford area provided Key a valuable extension of their assets into northern Illinois. With the ability to focus on local sales in Rockford, we believe they will do very well with the assets.
On the other hand, CCO has strong positions in nearby Chicago and Milwaukee, so the Rockford inventory did not get the attention necessary to maximize profitability. They saw an opportunity to take some chips off the table in a market they consider "non-core" and can pay more attention to their larger markets which are more of their specialty.
Can we expect to see more Clear Channel outdoor spinoffs like this?
I don't believe so. CCO markets like Rockford can be somewhat of a needle in a haystack. They certainly did not put any effort into finding a buyer and it took quite a bit of effort to tempt them to explore our deal. I would bet their next announcement is an acquisition as opposed to a divestiture. They have great assets in many of the larger markets in the U.S., and I believe we will see them make some acquisitions to protect/strengthen their position in said markets. While they have sold a few times recently, and earnings have not been great, they still have an incredible collection of assets which generate plenty of revenue. They are not going anywhere any time soon.
U.S. Open Draws Crowds to Times Square With Promise of Mega-Selfies
New York Times
By Katie Rogers
August 25, 2016
Have you ever wondered how it's possible to command more than a few seconds of someone's time in the packed madhouse that is Times Square, a.k.a. the "Crossroads of the World" and the unofficial sensory overload capital of America?
As it turns out, the answer is easy: Lure the curious with the promise of a mega-selfie.
To promote the United States Open, which begins in Flushing, N.Y., on Monday, the United States Tennis Association offered visitors the opportunity to have pictures of themselves posted on six billboards throughout Times Square.
For two hours on Thursday, throngs of tourists and even a few locals took it up on the offer, lingering on a spot of concrete near 43rd Street and Broadway and whirling around to take a selfie with their own giant images displayed high above. Very meta.
Nicole Kankam, the managing director of marketing for the tennis association, said the digital takeover was an attempt to attract a new type of tennis fan: someone who is younger, who is more digitally savvy and, crucially, who might buy a ticket and help fill the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. (Thanks to renovations, the center will be able to host an additional 100,000 fans by 2018.)
"We've really got to engage a more socially active, a younger, more diverse demographic" to draw a hipper crowd and sell those tickets, Ms. Kankam said. "Socially engaging fans is a way to do that."
Success would be measured by social media impressions, she said, like tracking use of a special Snapchat geofilter created for the occasion and hashtags like #USOpen.
Not surprisingly, along with photos of visitors came a parade of advertisements: A retractable roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium! Serena Williams! Andy Murray! Lobster rolls! Justin Timberlake! Chef Morimoto!
A square packed with so many starry-eyed tourists and rowdy Elmos raises a question: Who would actually still be in town in this vacation month to buy tickets?
Birgit Caroen, a 24-year-old Belgian tourist passing through New York on her way to Canada, said that she was a tennis fan "10 years ago, when there were a lot of famous Belgian tennis players," but that she wouldn't be able to attend.
Still, she and her friends lingered for about 15 minutes, watching their photos disappear and recirculate. That's the kind of exposure, or "buzz," that Ms. Kankam said the tennis association was looking for.
The powerful allure of mega-photos like these comes with complicated back-end mechanics, according to Lara Herzer, a creative director at McGarryBowen who worked with the association and another agency, Horizon Media, to put together the project.
Here's how it worked: A street team of eight people dressed in United States Open gear engaged with visitors and snapped photographs of people on their iPads. Another creative director, sitting in a conference room somewhere, downloaded those photos and sent them to the companies that pushed the displays to billboards for a 10-second Times Square broadcast.
Who knew? Also, how much does this cost?
Ms. Kankam said that the amount paid by the tennis association, a nonprofit, was "hard to quantify," but that companies like Citizen, the watchmaker, allowed the U.S.T.A. to take over their digital billboards free.
Michael Galkin, a sales, research and marketing manager with the signage company Branded Cities, which leased two of the six billboards to the association, would not comment on the cost of the campaign, but said that talks for a short takeover, or "roadblock," like this one usually start at about $25,000, beginning with one billboard.
The tennis association takeover involved far more billboards, of course, but in the world of Times Square billboard prices, the project was still most likely a bargain. Just down the street, close to where the Naked Cowboy hangs out, one of the most expensive pieces of outdoor advertising space on the market costs $2.5 million for a four-week takeover.
In the end, among the people who lingered the longest were two Bronx natives: Evelyn Hernandez and Esther Livé, who had journeyed to Midtown Manhattan for a manicure and a pedicure and spent more than a half-hour in the middle of the action.
Ms. Hernandez said she had friends coming into town to watch the Open, and that she would go, too, if she could just find a ticket.
Recent Supreme Court Decisions and Street Graphics Law
American Planning Association
By Staff Writer
August 22, 2016
Street Graphics and the Law,
now in its fourth edition, began 45 years ago when planner Bill Ewald decided that sign ordinances for on-premise business needed a new start. He developed a new concept and Street Graphics Model Ordinance that presented innovative ideas.
Ground sign height and size would depend on the speed and width of adjacent streets, an idea confirmed with United States Sign Council studies and now included in our report and approved by court decision. Wall signs would not have a rigid fixed location, but businesses could decide how to display them within a signable wall area.
Communities could designate Areas of Special Character, such as downtown areas, where they could adopt customized sign regulations to fit the aesthetic environment. In 1985, a federal district court held the entire street graphics ordinance constitutional.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Development (HUD) published the first edition, then called Street Graphics, distributed it nationwide, and made a 1971 movie about it seen by a million people. The first edition won a HUD award, and many communities adopted all or a part of the model ordinance in their sign regulations.
Then changes came. When HUD published the first edition, the free speech clause of the U.S. Constitution did not apply to commercial speech, so sign ordinances regulating commercial speech, like the Model Street Graphics Ordinance, did not have to comply with free speech law.
In 1976, that situation changed when the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the free speech clause of the U.S. Constitution also applied to commercial speech.
Street Graphics and the Law
then expanded its review of free speech principles, and the latest edition includes discussion of the important new Supreme Court case, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, which considered free speech law as it applies to sign regulation. This case complicates sign regulation, making many sign ordinances questionable, as explained further in the February 2016 Planning article, "Sign of the Times."
The Street Graphics Model Ordinance stands up pretty well after the Reed case. That case adopted strict rules to decide when a sign ordinance regulates sign content. An ordinance is usually unconstitutional if it regulates content even though it allows, rather than prohibits, certain kinds of speech, such as an ordinance authorizing a sign advertising real estate.
The Street Graphics Model Ordinance in the new edition of Street Graphics and the Law includes modifications that comply with the Reed decision, but the model ordinance in earlier editions avoided most problems that this case tried to correct.
Street Graphics and the Law is the dominant guide for sign ordinances that can communicate effectively in the environment while preserving aesthetic quality. Are you up to speed?
About the Author
Daniel R. Mandelker is the Stamper Professor of Law at Washington University in St. Louis where he teaches land-use and state and local government law.
: A street lined with shop signs. Photo by Flickr user Missouri Division of Tourism (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
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