Electronic signs could light up parts of Michigan Avenue
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter email@example.com July 10, 2012 2:56PM
Water Tower Place. File photo.
Updated: August 12, 2012 6:29AM
Water Tower Place and two other vertical malls along Michigan Avenue would be free to put up “static electronic signs” to promote their tenants, under a proposed sign ordinance that, downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) insists, is not designed to recreate New York’s Times Square.
Reilly said the Magnificent Mile is Chicago’s classiest shopping district, and he’s determined to keep it that way, even as he helps Michigan Avenue’s three large vertical malls drum up business for retailers inside.
At the June 27 City Council meeting, Reilly introduced an ordinance that would pave the way for “changing image signs” at “multi-tenanted shopping centers with a minimum of 300,000 sq.ft. of contiguous leasable retail area under single ownership with a minimum of ten tenants who share a primary common entrance.”
Three vertical malls would qualify under that description: Water Tower Place, The Shops at North Bridge and 900 North Michigan Shops
The electronic signs would be required to have a “transition time” of “no less than 20 minutes-per-image.” The maximum total sign area “may not exceed 1,000 sq. ft.-per sign,” nor could signs be placed higher than 80 feet above grade. The tenant name would be required to appear “as large or larger than any product name advertised” on an electronic sign.
Reilly said he also plans to require electronic signs to be equipped with dimmers so they can be turned down in the event area residents find the illumination disturbingly bright.
The bottom line, according to the aldermen, is that there is no comparison to the cheesiness of New York’s Times Square.
“Times Square involves a lot of video imagery, a lot of flashing lights, a lot of dynamic displays and neon. None of those things are allowed under this proposal. All the negative images that come with Times Square are prohibited,” the alderman said Tuesday.
“The technology being described is virtually identical to the average billboard you see today. The average pedestrian looking from the sidewalk at these displays would not be able to know whether that’s a digital sign or a traditional paper billboard. This is a real conservative approach that takes advantage of the new technology.”
Reilly noted that Water Tower Place has two bay windows on the second floor fronting Michigan Avenue that routinely display paper signs. A few times a year, those paper signs are changed to promote different tenants in the mall. The electronic signs would replace those paper displays, he said.
“People don’t always know who the tenants are. That’s the challenge. This allows a mall like Water Tower Place to promote all their tenants in the course of a week over 20-minute intervals, where the current practice allows them to promote a handful of tenants a year,” the alderman said.
“We don’t want to clutter the avenue with advertising kiosks on the sidewalk. This seems like a creative solution aimed at assisting three large multi-tenant malls on Michigan Avenue better assist tenants in promoting their business along the right-of-way. Chicago absolutely benefits from driving more retail traffic into these multi-tenant spaces.”
Mitch Feldman, senior general manager of Water Tower Place, said electronic signs would “help serve the needs of the retailers in a vertical mall setting.”
Noting that Michigan Avenue is one of Chicago’s leading tourist destinations, he said “It’s become more and more important and more critical for vertical malls on the avenue to be able to message at the street level who our retailers are and what they have to offer. It’s important to our existing retailers and our ability to attract new retailers into a vertical mall setting. If we can’t do this, it impacts our business.”
He added, “The ordinance has been crafted to uphold the integrity of the avenue. I don’t think it diminishes it in any way.”
It’s not the first time that signs along Michigan Avenue have drawn the attention of the local alderman.
In 1996, then-Ald. Burton F. Natarus (42nd), Reilly’s predecessor, sharply restricted the quantity, size and appearance of new commercial signs from Oak Street to Roosevelt. Flashing neon or illuminated signs and painted signs or murals on building walls were expressly forbidden.
At the time, Natarus said the crackdown was motivated by, what he called cheesy signs and displays at Filene’s and Victoria’s Secret.
“It’s too jazzy . . . It’s too flashy. Filene’s has brown shades. Victoria’s Secret has a lot of pink in it and lady’s lingerie displayed in a rather exquisite manner. Border’s has a large number of signs on the face of the building and the overall appearance was detracting — not only from the business community, but from the residential community,” the alderman said then.
Since taking office five years ago, Reilly said he, too, has “devoted a lot of attention to improving the aesthetics on Michigan Avenue and removing all sorts of advertising clutter.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office said it was reviewing the electronic sign ordinance and had no immediate comment on it.