What’s up when a billboard company proposes to take down two full-sized billboards on a major commercial street? If you’re cynical—and you should be where the outdoor advertising industry is concerned—your first question will be: What’s in it for the company? And the answer—quite a lot, potentially—should come as no surprise.
The billboards in question, one of which is show above, are owned by Van Wagner Communications, a New York-based outdoor advertiser and company involved in a major way in putting up supergraphic signs at new developments in Hollywood. But if they’re generating revenue, why does the company want to remove them?
The answer lies in the Hollywood sign district, which has a provision—great for sign companies, not so great for the community—that allows two sq. ft. of new supergraphic signage to be put up for every one sq. ft. of existing billboards taken down elsewhere in the area. In other words, those two billboards—672 sq. ft. each—are worth 2,688 sq, ft. of supergraphic signs on projects like the W Hotel at Hollywood and Vine, where Van Wagner is asking $65,000 a month for a 78 x 39 ft. sign. That’s certainly more than the rent the company is getting for the two billboards on Melrose Ave.
Whether or not Van Wagner will get those sign credits is open to question, however. In the past, credits for supergraphic signage in new developments have gone to the property owners, not sign companies that took down signs. However, in July of this year a billboard company that took down signs to make way for that Hollywood and Vine project sued the city, claiming that the sign credits should go to it and not the property owner. The issue is important to sign companies because holding the sign credits would potentially give the companies more leverage in negotiating agreements regarding advertising revenue from the signs.
In the meantime, the City Planning Commission apparently recognized that the sign credit provision was actually a “sign proliferation” mechanism, and in January of this year adopted revisions to the Hollywood sign district ordinance that, among other things, reduced the credit to one sq. ft. of supergraphic signage for every one sq. ft. of billboards removed. However, those revisions have been bottled up in city council committee, and aren’t expected to be acted upon any time soon.Dennis Hathaway