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Utah's powerful billboard industry, which sees its future in electronic signs, suddenly has a blackout zone Salt Lake City.
By unanimous vote, the City Council elected Tuesday to ban any new electronic billboard or the conversion of existing billboards to digital along all major roadways throughout the state's capital.
Urged by Mayor Ralph Becker to take action, the council agreed in the face of heated billboard-industry pressure that glowing, image-swapping signs are a public-safety distraction to freeway drivers. At the same time, the council agreed to revisit the new ordinance (along with new studies on the impact of e-billboards) and perhaps make tweaks within nine months.
Council Chairwoman Jill Remington Love said the prohibition is not meant to disparage billboard companies, particularly Young Electric Sign Company a "great, corporate citizen" with a near-60-year legacy. Instead, Love said, the ban will give City Hall an opportunity to look at "how do we showcase our skyline and how do we showcase our mountains? We are the capital city and we are a beautiful city. For me, while there may be studies that show that billboards may not be a distraction, it's just common sense. … I don't need studies to tell me that."
Becker, who called it a "passionate subject," said the restriction is important for Utah's progressive capital community. "We have a new form of billboards and we don't have standards, really, for that," the mayor said. "We need to get a handle on that before we're overwhelmed by electronic billboards."
The city's blackout will not affect its six existing electronic billboards. Neither will it impact digital business signs, though the Mayor's Office insists regulations on those so-called "on-premise" signs must be contemplated soon.
A team of billboard executives waited patiently for hours before Tuesday's vote. They filed out without addressing the council.
"The ban on billboards is bad for business and at a bad time for the economy," YESCO Vice President Jeff Young said. "It's a scary, scary thing."
Young insisted his industry already is heavily regulated and said he hopes city officials will loosen the restriction over the next nine months.
On Monday, Downtown Alliance Chairman Vasilios Priskos and Executive Director Jason Mathis sent Love a letter calling for a postponed vote until the city can "create a truly comprehensive plan governing billboards."
Councilman Soren Simonsen also pointed out the usefulness of e-billboards for Amber Alerts. The controversial signs, he said, have probably saved more people through Amber Alerts than they have harmed.
Still, he supported the ban, saying he wants to take seriously how the "visual clutter" impacts the image of the city at its gateways.
"That could really have a lot do to with how we perceive ourselves as a community."
Earlier this week, Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said the city's ban could likely end up at the Legislature next year. "I don't know how it would turn out I'd like to think we'd be accommodating to business," he told The Tribune.
YESCO, Reagan Outdoor Advertising and others now have the rest of the year to convince the city their buzzing billboards aren't that bad.
The Redevelopment Agency board OK'd a fourth extension to negotiate a purchase deal with the property arm of the LDS Church for a parcel at 135 S. Main St. envisioned as a future Broadway-class theater. The city expects a deal next month.
The board also unanimously OK'd a final construction plan for a rehabilitation of SLC's dilapidated and vacant single-room occupancy hotels between 237 and 255 S. State Street.