Blade Runner II? Developer Wants To Wrap Downtown Towers With Huge Electronic Advertisments

Architect's rendering of project. Ads for Coke, Bud Light, Toyota, etc. not shown

A 66-story office tower and adjacent 46-story residential building in downtown L.A. could be covered with nearly 400,000 square feet of electronic signage, including full motion video, if the city approves a special sign district for the yet to be built project.  As reported by our friends at Curbed LA,  the proposed sign district would allow the signage to broadcast ads for any commercial products and services.

The two towers, plus a shared 150 ft. high podium structure, would be covered with approximately 380,000 sq. ft. of the signage.  To put that number in perspective, the largest jumbotron installed  in a sports stadium, in Toronto, Canada, was 3,600 sq. ft.

In addition, the lower part of the podium and street levels would have an undetermined amount of electronic signage, including a 10 ft. high scrolling news ticker.  Various types of signage are included in the proposal, including full-motion video, and limited animation signs that would refresh at various intervals from eight seconds to three hours.  Full motion video signs would not be allowed above 150 ft., but the upper sections of the towers could include animation signs refreshing every eight seconds.

Much of the signage on the upper levels of the building would be visible from the heavily-traveled 110 freeway just a short distance north of the site.  A draft environmental impact report (DEIR) for the project also listed eight residential buildings close enough to the project site that some of the signage would be visible to apartment and condominium dwellers, depending upon the orientation of their windows.  The brightly-lighted advertising signs would operate from dawn to 2 a.m.

Blue markers show residential buildings around Wilshire Grand project area bordered by red (click to enlarge)

According to the DEIR, the light from the signs would be limited to an intensity that wouldn’t impact surrounding areas, although similar light levels have been applied by the city to digital billboards, and the bright, intense light from those signs has generated many complaints from people in residential neighborhoods as well as motorists.

The DEIR also addresses energy use, stating that the signage will not exceed a limit of 12 watts per square foot.  If the signs actually consumed energy at that rate, the yearly consumption of electricity would be more than 35 million kilowatts.  To again put numbers in perspective, the average L.A. home consumes about 10,000 kilowatts, meaning that the signs would use energy equivalent to 3500 homes.

The city’s current provisions for establishing sign districts were adopted in 2002, at the same time the city banned any new off-site and supergraphic signs.  However, these sign types could be allowed in sign districts, the purpose of which, according to the enabling ordinance, was to enhance the “unique characteristics” of an area of the city “by the imposition of special sign regulations designed to enhance the theme or unique qualities of that district, or which eliminate blight through a sign  reduction program.”

In response to the establishment of a sign district in 2008 on an MTA bus lot for the to allow Clear Channel to put up digital billboards, and to a flurry of applications for new sign districts downtown and elsewhere, the City Planning Commission (CPC) in that same year approved more stringent criteria for establishing sign districts.  Included was language intended to preclude sign districts for a single development, such as the Wilshire Grand project.

Those revisions were never adopted by the City Council.  However, in 2009 the CPC approved a new citywide sign ordinance which went even further, requiring sign districts to encompass a minimum area of 15 acres, or 5,000 linear feet of street frontage.  The Wilshire Grand project, on a 3.2 acre site, would fall far short of meeting this requirement.

At the same time, lobbyists for development interests pushed for adoption of a “Comprehensive Sign Program” that would allow unique kinds of signage for single projects on sites of more than 5 acres and a minimum floor area of 100,000 sq. ft.  At the urging of Councilwoman Jan Perry,  the language applying just to the downtown area, which Perry represents, was changed to 5 acres or 100,000 sq. ft.  Under that criteria, the Wilshire Grand project would qualify, although the electronic sign types are still prohibited under the ordinance that has yet to be acted on by the City Council.

The City Planning Department is accepting public comment on the environmental impact report until Aug. 23.  We’ll be sending a strongly-worded objection, but regardless of your opinion, you can mail, e-mail, or fax your comments to the addresses below and they’ll be included in the final environmental impact report.  Reference Case No: ENV-2009-1577-EIR

Mariana Salazar, City Planning Associate

LosAngeles City Planning Department

200 N. Spring Street, Room 620

Los Angeles, CA 90012

(213) 978-6566 (fax)

Email: Mariana.Salazar@lacity.org

Dennis Hathaway

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