Signs of the Times - July 2012 - (Page 77)
The Value of Signs
Newport, KY creates an entertainment-district sign code.
By Wade Swormstedt
The purpose of the Sign Overlay District is to enhance the unique character and the identity of the area by encouraging iconographic and inventively illuminated graphics and signage that establish Newport, Kentucky as “the” entertainment destination for the region.
Thus statesofSection One SignNewport, KY’s recently of enacted (as March 12) Overlay District (SOD)
sign code. This simple document spans 1.5 pages when printed out, compared to the Ohio River city’s standard sign code, which encompasses 10 pages. The good news is such invigorating language as “enhance,” “encouraging” and “inventively.” The bad news is Section Seven, “Sign Approval,” which stipulates “Any Application for a permit for any Sign on the exterior facades (“Exterior Signs”) shall be submitted to the Zoning Administrator for review, who shall then, along with his or her recommendation, submit the Application to the (here it comes) Urban Design Review Board (“Board”) for review and approval.” So that many-headed Hydra – subjectivity – still reigns. SOD encompasses a four-block-long, retail-centerdeep space next to the river, and it resides across from Cincinnati, which has three professional sports stadia in plain view (and a downtown casino slated to open in June 2013). The SOD essentially occupies a multitenant entertainment venue called Newport on the Levee, anchored by an aquarium. The Levee was voted by Zagat as the #1 Shopping/ Mall Attraction for Families in the U.S. in May 2004. Now 10 years old, and affected by both changing trends and economic conditions, the Levee’s California owners, PS Ivanhoe (The Price Group), both of which share a La Jolla, CA address, believe the entire facility needs an upgrade. So they hired Jack Illes, a marketing consultant with both an architectural and real-estate background, to lobby Newport officials for some concessions. Jack is the sole proprietor of Urban Strategies, “a full-service Real Estate Advisory Group focused on the urban mixed use real estate,” according to his LinkedIn profile. “We basically looked at the blank spaces as underutilized spaces,” Jack explained. These are the back walls of the Levee buildings that face the major audience source – people in Cincinnati. Consequently, although the SOD sign code doesn’t allow many concessions for on-premise branded signage, it focuses on off-premise creativity, including 3-D elements and possibly images projected on the blank walls. Whereas ground signs in the standard sign code are limited to a height of 10 ft. above grade, the SOD specifically states, “Ground signs, if approved, shall have a maximum height of thirty  ft. and must be located within 10 ft. of an existing building structure.” Officially, these would be considered off-premise. Additionally, while all nine classes of signs in the regular sign code specifically ban anything “flashing or animated”, the cryptic Section Six of SOD (Permitted Illumination) only states, “Application of media and Signs my be illuminated, provided those Signs visible from highways abide by an existing regulations as stipulated by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation.” SOD’s Section Four (Media and Sign Types) specifically allows, among other things, “electronic message centers, fiberoptic display, kinetic and projected light,” all of which would seemingly veer toward animation. In the mid-20th Century, Newport was known as a gangster-infiltrated Sin City of gambling and prostitution, and tacit concerns undoubtedly fear “flashy” signage would evoke memories of that undesirable legacy. Clearly, Newport officials understand the benefits of creative signage, but they didn’t want to discuss SOD. The unspoken fear is being portrayed as laissez-faire. Newport wants controlled creativity, but to err on the side of caution. A local newspaper account said the Levee wanted to attract Dick’s Sporting Goods, but “officials had trouble drawing interest until the prospects of the signs were mentioned.” Apple Store was also mentioned as an entity that wouldn’t consider the Levee without a major signage presence. The obvious, unspoken message is Newport doesn’t really want to allow this. But, it believes it’s being forced to by its major taxpayer. And by hanging onto the caveat of a-la-carte sign approval, it’s releasing its reins ever so slowly, and only as much as is absolutely necessary. Like the middle-aged, pudgy guy who wants to be in shape, but only grudgingly commits to any effort, Newport knows that attractive, creative signs will bolster its competition with Cincinnati for entertainment dollars. So it has joined the health club. We’ll see to what extent it will attend and work out. As of this writing at the end of May, there had been no sign applications under the new SOD guidelines. ■
SIGNS OF THE TIMES / JULY 2012 / www.signweb.com 77
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Signs of the Times - July 2012
Signs of the Times - June 2012
The Moving Message
Vehicle Graphics Contest Extension
The American Sign Museum Opens!
An Electric-Sign Company Snapshot
By Print or by Paint
Lessons for the Boss
The Value of Signs
Signs of the Times - July 2012