As part of a new partnership with Apple, the Minnesota Wild wants to hang a giant temporary banner — possibly of Wild players photographed with iPhones — on the side of Xcel Energy Center.
How giant? About 2,900 square feet. How temporary? Three years.
City ordinance limits temporary banners to no more than 120 square feet, and allows them to stay up for no more than 90 days. So the Wild needs the city to grant a variance for their banner, which would hang on the Kellogg Boulevard side of the arena.
That request has turned into a contest between downtown advocates who champion a more eye-catching and vibrant downtown and a citizens group fighting what it calls sign pollution.
“Because the appearance of our community matters. Sign clutter diminishes our community,” said Jeanne Weigum, a leader of the group Scenic St. Paul. “To me, it’s commercial litter.”
Officials with the hockey club, which also manages the 20,000-seat arena that opened in 2000, said the jumbo banners have been part of Apple promotions in other markets. In fact, banners covering 2,400 square feet have been draped down the side of the X before — in 2011 for the Visa gymnastics championship and the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
“It’s a pretty similar size” to those banners, said Bill Huepenbecker, the arena’s senior director of planning and public affairs. “And it’s pretty consistent with what you have seen in the [downtown] entertainment district.”
In fact, Huepenbecker said, giant banners have hung at the Science Museum of Minnesota, Landmark Center, the Ordway and the George Latimer Central Library. The St. Paul Downtown Alliance and the Capitol River Council, the district council for downtown, also support the request, he said.
A team spokeswoman said Monday that she wasn’t able to find out the exact dimensions of the banner the Wild wants to drape on the side of the arena. But the sides of a square banner that size would be 54 feet long.
Joe Spencer, president of the Downtown Alliance, said of the Wild’s banner proposal: “It just seems like a good opportunity for our downtown.”
While banners that size probably aren’t appropriate in city neighborhoods, he said, they have a role to play downtown.
“You want bustling, activity, density. … Signs are a part of that. This is not an eyesore, but a critical part of what downtown is all about,” Spencer said. “You want to look down the street and clearly see there are breweries and restaurants and coffee shops and bars you can go into.”
The city’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) had recently approved the banner request, which is what Scenic St. Paul is appealing to the City Council. But that appeal was pulled from the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting after city staff realized the zoning appeals board needs to consider two additional variances — one for the height of the banner and another for a city ordinance that allows only two exterior signs at the X.
If the BZA approves those requests, then the appeal will be put back onto the City Council agenda, said Suzanne Donovan, a spokeswoman for the Department of Safety and Inspections.
Weigum, whose group paid $462 to appeal the banner approval, said she was the one who pointed out the missteps in the board’s actions. She’s been on the front lines of sign wars in St. Paul for 30 years.
“I think it’s kind of appalling that it took a citizen putting money on the table for [staff] to notice this,” she said. “And, if we win, we don’t get it back. You pay the price to have a good government.”
Spencer said it’s probably time for the City Council to consider changing sign ordinances, at least for downtown.
City Council Member Rebecca Noecker, who said she cannot comment on the Wild banner request because of the appeal, said it might also be time to examine the role of bigger signs downtown.
“We may want to have that conversation,” she said. “We want to have a vibrant downtown.”