Flashing digital billboards could be coming to the walls of Nationals Park as early as next year. The D.C. Council has approved a request by the Nats to add the displays as a way to generate more advertising revenue.
The proposal faced opposition from city residents and community groups who see the gigantic screens as a threat to their peace, and even to views of the city’s iconic buildings, such as the U.S. Capitol.
But a majority of the D.C. Council supported allowing the signs, saying they are appropriate in entertainment districts and can add value to neighborhood identity. Only council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) voted against the proposal at the final reading Tuesday. Now the bill moves to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s desk.
The legislation will allow as many as five displays at the ballpark, with use limited to between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.
The proposal is a scaled-down version of what the Nationals had requested. The original bill called for the installation of 10 LED screens that club officials said would generate $3 million to $5 million annually. The original bill also had extended operation hours from 6 a.m. to midnight.
Alan Gottlieb, a partner in the team, made the case to the D.C. Council last month that the revenue would boost the Nats’ ability to acquire star players and raise its status with Major League Baseball.
“With costs ever increasing, we need to find avenues to be able to generate additional revenue,” he said at a Nov. 14 hearing.
A Nationals spokeswoman declined to comment this week on the proposal approved by the council. Gottlieb had said last month that the plan is to have many of the signs installed “as soon as possible” and have them by 2018, when Nationals Park hosts the MLB All-Star Game.
At least one of the proposed displays is as large as 38 by 25 feet. The city allowed 50-by-24-foot screens at Verizon Center three years ago, and some residents have complained that the screens, which flash images of sponsors, coming events and the city’s sports teams, amount to intrusive giant TV screens outside their windows.
Council members who backed the bill said it establishes a standardized review process for issuing permits and renewals for signs in locations designated entertainment areas, such as Nationals Park. A mayoral working group is also developing recommendations on a citywide policy to regulate billboards and other exterior signs.
Critics say it leaves the door open to a proliferation of the signs across the city.
The legislation “sets a loose standard that the billboard industry will dive into with glee, citing the many precedents this careless bill sets,” said Meg Maguire, a member of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, a planning and land use advocacy group.
Before approving the measure, the council included nine amendments, including changes to the operating hours, and established a standard for measuring the luminance from the screens.
Silverman, who supported the amendments, thanked the panel for improving the bill with those changes but said she still couldn’t support the overall proposal. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), one of the bill sponsors, said the amendments reflected recommendations by some of the critics of the bill, including the Committee of 100 on the Federal City.
“This continues to get at our intent, which is to allow for, in a fairly narrow scope, some type of signage,” he said, but also making sure there is a standard system in place for regulations and reviews when such signs are requested.