When is a giant digital billboard not a billboard? When Jan Perry says so — and the City Council agrees with her.
That’s the heart of the sweetest of sweetheart deals that will allow big shot developer Jim Thomas and the giant Korean conglomerate Hanjin Group to tear down the Wilshire Grand and replace it with two tax-subsidized skyscrapers wrapped with five-story high digital billboards that will generate millions of dollars a year in revenue to the developer.
Tibby Rothman in the LA Weekly provides a hard look at the controversy, quoting various experts, activists and even City Planning Commissioners questioning creation of a special sign district just for this project and the impact of the digital signs.
“Ignoring opposition from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s appointees to the City Planning Commission, on March 11 City Council members Paul Krekorian and Ed Reyes
embraced a plan for huge billboards on the Wilshire Grand project. They
relied on the argument that the huge advertisements, which would be 12
times larger than big digital billboards erected two years ago on main
streets, including La Brea Avenue, are not “billboards” at all, and thus
don’t fly in the face of Angelenos’ opposition to more billboard ads,
or run afoul of the City Council’s own 2002 ban on new billboards.
“The billboards to appear on two skyscrapers proposed at Wilshire
Grand, located at Figueroa and Seventh downtown, will be illuminated
with several million ultrabright LED lightbulbs, whose glow is visible
” ‘What is being proposed by the developers is not a billboard,” Councilwoman Jan Perryassured Krekorian and Reyes as they sat on the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee
meeting on March 11. She told them that 5-story-tall product ads aren’t
billboards because they’ll be “fully integrated into the curtain wall
of the project.’ “
The plan is build a 45-story hotel now and a 65-story office/residential tower later if there is ever any demand for it with half the 10 percent hotel tax — $54 million over 25 years — staying with Hanjin, owner of Korean Air.
Property owners around 7th and Figueroa have objected to the billboard plan but the project is set for City Council approval on Tuesday as matter of urgency, according to Perry who says the financing agreement for the project expires April 1.
A project labor agreement has been approved with the hotel workers union and the construction trades all also aboard, helping the deal sail through without scrutiny in record time.
It’s only the beginning of lighting up downtown like the Ginza in Tokyo, pictured above, as AEG plans massive digital billboards on its proposed NFL stadium and on the rebuilt Convention Center — developments that will open up much of downtown to becoming a sign district numerous building plastered with digital billboards.