Though they are well-known signals of “big city, bright lights” fun zones, billboards can also be distracting and garish. They have a place, but there are good reasons why so many cities, including Minneapolis and St. Paul, have chosen to limit the proliferation of outdoor advertising.
The limitations make sense in cities that want to be friendly not only to businesses and entertainment venues but also to apartment and condo residents. That’s why a recently proposed ordinance change in Minneapolis that calls for expanding the downtown area that allows off-premise advertising should be rejected.
Under the proposal, billboards would be allowed on the south side of S. 6th Street and along the west side of Park Avenue S. from S. 6th Street to S. 4th Street near U.S. Bank Stadium. The change also would allow painted wall signs along both sides of Hennepin Avenue, beginning at S. 8th Street to Washington Avenue as well as along the south side of Washington Avenue from Hennepin Avenue eastward to the highway.
Currently, the signage is allowed on parts of Hennepin Avenue, Target Center and U.S. Bank Stadium, but since the mid-1990s Minneapolis has encouraged removing off-premise signs and billboards from residential neighborhoods and less-commercial areas. The current ordinance was established to help regulate billboard location, size and illumination “so as to minimize their visual blighting effects.”
In recent years, downtown has seen a surge in apartment and condo construction, with more than 40,000 residents now calling the area home. And as much as some of those residents might like being close to the “bright lights” zone, few want flashing neon or bright video signs just outside their homes. In fact, at a recent Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association meeting, several resident groups unanimously objected to the ordinance change.
The move to revise current billboard regulations reportedly began a couple of years ago, when the First Covenant Church, at 810 S. 7th St., announced plans to build affordable housing on some of its land that has a billboard. To relocate that advertising, the city had to allow a new billboard site. That request morphed into the proposal to expand the billboard zone.
Those who stand to benefit from the expanded ad zones are the property owners who could lease space for the signs and billboard firms that sell the ads. Some of them would like to see the expansion happen quickly to take advantage of the Super Bowl.
It would be one thing if the billboard expansion plan was temporary — that is, just for Super Bowl week, like longer bar hours. But Minneapolis and its downtown residents would be stuck with the additional signage long after NFL revelers are gone.
The city’s Planning Commission is expected to discuss the expanded signage plan on Monday. Commissioners should listen to the resident groups and vote no.