Sign limit stirs reaction

Some owners find fault with restrictions on size
Sunday, September 24, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:25 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Cool Stuff’s sign doesn’t measure up. Neither does the Missouri Theatre’s.

These and other prominent signs downtown might be the last of their kind because of a new signage ordinance endorsed by the Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday after a 5-3 vote and a lengthy discussion.

If approved by the City Council, the ordinance would limit the size and number of signs downtown.

According to the proposal, the downtown Special Business District should be “attractive, historic and pedestrian,” and to become so, “signs should be smaller in scale and fewer in number.” The district stretches roughly from Elm Street to Ash Street and from Providence Road to Waugh Street, near Stephens College.

Commissioners, representatives from the Special Business District board and business and property owners in the downtown area attended work sessions to discuss the ordinance. Thursday’s meeting was the third public hearing for the proposal, and followed two specially scheduled public work sessions.

Arnie Fagan, owner of Cool Stuff and other buildings along Broadway, attended several of the meetings.

He was opposed to the proposal, saying that although the proposed dimensions “look good on paper,” the ordinance is too specific to work in practice.

“They hone in on things so much, making the ordinance so anal-retentive,” Fagan said. “It makes it difficult to have crea­tivity.”

And creativity is one of the things that makes downtown so unique, he said.

“That’s what it’s really about — small businesses downtown trying to hang their shingles out and trying to make their dream.”

Not all business owners think the ordinance would stifle creativity.

“I don’t think that creativity is restricted just because you’re limiting the size,” said John Ott, another downtown business owner including part-ownship of the Tiger Hotel and member of the Special District Board, at the Sept. 7 meeting. “I think there is plenty of opportunity for creativity and putting together a good sign with the signage requirement.”

The ordinance would not affect downtown signs already in place. But signs like those of prominent businesses such as the Missouri Theatre, Slacker’s, Campus Bar and Grill, and Cool Stuff would run afoul of the measure’s guidelines.

The sign for Cool Stuff, for example, wouldn’t have been allowed because the letters exceed 18 inches.

Businesses that face Providence Road would be exempt from the proposed measure.

The sign ordinance is part of a greater set of city plans to improve the aesthetics of downtown, including the Broadway Improvements Plan, the Helping Urban Beautification Plan and the Avenue of the Columns Study.

Writing the proposal has taken a year. Major disagreements dealt with the maximum square footage of the signs, the size of the lettering and whether the second floor sign should be smaller than that of the main floor.

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