Wed, Aug

Back from the Dead? Reviled Plan for Convention Center Billboards

BILLBOARDWATCH - When a proposal to put 50,000 sq. ft. of billboards on the facade of the LA Convention Center came before the City Planning Commission two years ago, one element got a big raspberry from commissioners. That was the plan for billboards covering much of the distinctive glass entry towers designed in the early 90′s by the firm founded by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei.

But now those billboards are back, as part of the plan by Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) to build an NFL football stadium on land now occupied by the west hall of the convention center. The company says revenue from a total of 44 proposed static and electronic signs on the south hall of convention center and a new wing to be built by the city is a crucial part of financing the $1 billion-plus project.

That isn’t the only change from the signage approved on a 6-1 vote of the planning commission in July, 2009. First detailed in documents dated Sept. 12, 2007, but not made public until a City Council committee meeting a year later, the signage proposed by AEG called for 18 billboards on the long convention center facade at the busy interchange of the 10 and 110 freeways. The four billboards in the center of that array, totaling more than 4,000 sq. ft. and directly facing oncoming traffic, were to be electronic with changing messages.

The City Planning Commission nixed the idea of bright, rapidly changing ads for goods and services beamed at drivers negotiating one of the nation’s busiest freeway interchanges. And it added a requirement that all 18 static billboards on the facade, totaling more than 20,000 sq. ft., be subject to a design review process.

The commission’s action, which was an amendment to a 1999 ordinance that governed signage at LA Live and Staples Center and gave convention center signage rights to AEG, was never acted upon by the City Council. But on July 22 of this year, AEG made public their latest signage proposal for the convention center, as part of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the city for the stadium project.

That proposal was identical in most respects to the one first made public in 2008, with a total of eight billboards–two electronic–on the glass entry towers. However, the plan does conform with the City Planning Commission’s action in eliminating the electronic billboards in the center of the freeway-facing array.

A glaring fact ought to have been obvious to city council members and others, though, which is that the signage proposal in the MOU includes the west hall of the convention center that’s slated for demolition to make way for the football stadium and construction of a new convention center wing. So even though the July 22, 2011, date on the signage plan preceded the full City Council’s first hearing on the MOU by only seven days, it was based on a document dated Sept. 12, 2007, long before the stadium proposal surfaced.

However, there is yet another signage plan by AEG that does include the stadium and new convention center wing. That plan, first revealed  in an article by the LA Weekly but yet to be made public, proposes to put billboards and electronic signs on both the convention center facade and what will be the main glass entry to the newly configured building.

Perhaps even more significantly, the plan almost doubles the square footage of electronic billboards, adding large-scale signs in the convention center concourse and plaza areas, as well as several sites in addition to the building facade that are visible to freeway traffic.

But getting back to billboards covering the glass entry towers, one wonders what the 94-year old I.M. Pei might have to say. Imagine one of his signature designs, the glass entry pyramid at the Louvre in Paris, plastered with ads.

The architect in charge of the convention center design, Pei’s long-time partner James Ingo Freed, cannot be asked his opinion, because he died in 2005. However, after the convention center project was complete, he was quoted in the LA Times as saying that one of the intents of the glass entry towers was to allow conventioneers to see the downtown skyline outside.

Not only would the AEG plan obscure that view, the downtown skyline promises to increasingly take on the appearance made famous in the movie “Blade Runner,” where multi-story electronic images stared down from all directions.

(Dennis Hathaway is the President of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight. He can be reached at [email protected])

Tags: LA Convention Center, AEG, City Planning Commission, City Council, Los Angeles, billboards, Staples Center, LA Live

Vol 9 Issue 76
Pub: Sept 23, 2011