The Reef: Digital Signage Spectacle Coming to South L.A?

Architect's rendering of The Reef project. Not all proposed signage is shown.

Architect’s rendering of The Reef project. Not all proposed signage is shown.

Sign, Sign, everywhere a sign….that lyric from a popular 1971 rock song could be a tagline for the latest developer’s megadream, a two-square block extravaganza of entertainment, shopping, and housing in a heretofore fallow—development-wise—area south of downtown L.A.

Known as The Reef, the project’s twin residential towers, hotel, and shopping, dining, and entertainment complexes will gleam with 234,000 sq. ft. of signage, most of it of the bright, ever-changing digital variety, broadcasting ads for commercial products and services like its neighbor just half a mile but a world away to the north, L.A. Live.

Assuming, of course, that the developer’s plans receive the city’s blessing. Among other entitlements such as a zoning change, the property must be designated as a sign district in order to create the kind of splendor brought on by the giant, brightly-lit ads for Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Toyota and others at L.A Live, branded by its developer as L.A.’s Times Square.

The most prominent signage proposed at The Reef would be attached to or incorporated into the facades of the two residential towers, the tallest of which is 420 ft. These giant digital signs would be allowed to beam a new “message” every eight seconds above the 75 ft. level, at longer intervals below. The rapidly changing signs would also be affixed to the walls of a 194 ft. tall building housing offices, restaurants, retail stores, and a fitness center, among other amenities.

As much as 19,000 sq. ft. of fully animated signage—video, in other words—would be allowed in areas only “incidentally visible” to motorists and pedestrians on surrounding streets and sidewalks. The term “Incidentally visible” is not further defined.

It’s probably no accident that 40 per cent of the upper-level signage—51,964 sq. ft., to be exact—is aimed north, where motorists on the eight-lane Santa Monica freeway just a block away can get an unobstructed view of those eight-second “messages” that will light up the sky until 2 a.m. in the morning.

Other audiences for whatever appears on the signs are students at the Santee Education Complex a block east and Trade Tech College two blocks west. A slightly more distant but clear view would be afforded those living in a single-family neighborhood to the southeast, and motorists on the 110 freeway less than a half mile west. In other words, lots of views, to use the language of the outdoor advertising industry.

These signage details are contained in a draft environmental impact report, which means that the soonest the project could have a hearing before the City Planning Commission and be sent on to the City Council is sometime next year. In the interim, changes could be made to various aspects of the project, including the signage.

The quest for a sign district could also run into difficulty, because the latest version of the citywide sign ordinance approved by the CPC last month limits sign districts to 21 geographic areas zoned for high-intensity commercial use. The Reef site isn’t in one those areas, which means that if the City Council approves the ordinance before the sign district comes up for a vote, most of the signage proposed would not be legal.

While none of the signage is in place, it has already attracted the attention of the nearby residential community, which is predominately working class and Latino. Public Counsel, a public interest law firm that works on economic and other issues in low-income communities, likens the proposed signage to “a massive outdoor TV showroom” that would “negatively impact, in the most profound ways, the quality of life for the residents living, working and studying just feet away…”

Those remarks are contained in a letter of comment on the aforementioned environmental impact report. The letter also refers to a study showing that outdoor advertisers have targeted low-income communities with ads for fast food, alcohol, sugary drinks, and other products that adversely impact health.

It’s obvious that the property’s developer, Kanon Ventures, a company headed by Glendale doctors Avedis and Ara Tavitian, is expecting a large amount of revenue to flow from the highly-visible digital signage. The company also owns Atwater Crossing, a creative office and studio complex in an industrial area adjacent to the L.A. River and a Dayton, Ohio, medical complex, among other properties.

Dennis Hathaway

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