Ted Leonsis, billionaire sports mogul, was walking the halls of the John A. Wilson Building today. It’s not that he sees a new entertainment opportunity in the D.C. Council’s antics. Rather, he’s trying to gather support for a revived proposal to put lighted, animated signs on the side of the Verizon Center.
The proposal was last in the news in January, when a council hearing on legislation that would allow the signs was postponed so Leonsis’s company, Monumental Sports and Entertainment, could do “further community outreach.” That now done, the bill has again been set for a hearing, to be held next week.
Does that mean the community’s on board with the plans? Yes and no.
Nanette Paris, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, said Wednesday that her group has worked with Monumental executives to largely resolve concerns about the signs themselves. But the bigger issue that has not been resolved is that the company is looking to gain approval directly from the D.C. Council.
Currently, a mayoral working group is developing recommendations on a citywide policy to regulate billboards and other exterior signs. The Verizon legislation, Paris and others say, would short-circuit that process for the benefit of a major business interest.
“Certainly there were certain folks who were vocal about the content and nature of the signs,” Paris said, “but when you boiled it down, it’s concern about the process.”
Paris said the association will be testifying against the bill on those grounds.
Monumental, in a May presentation to the group, said the signs would complement the “tasteful vibrant atmosphere” in and around the arena and “would further the development trend and increase tax revenue in our neighborhood without causing negative aesthetic effects.”
As to what precisely is contemplated: “If the legislation passes, we intend to seek permits for digital signs on the 7th Street facade, a wrap-around digital sign on the corner of 7th and F Street and signs at the metro entrance. If approved, we would remove the existing marquee on 7th Street.”
While the Downtown Neighborhood Association seems to have largely worked through its aesthetic concerns, the proposal is also facing opposition from Scenic America, a national anti-billboard nonprofit devoted to “preserving and enhancing the visual character of America’s communities.”
The hearing is before the council’s Public Services and Consumer Affairs Committee next Wednesday, June 20, at noon. The panel’s chairwoman, Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7), said Monday that “there still may be some opposition, but a lot has been worked out.”