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Will Verizon Center owner Ted Leonsis ever be able to put giant lighted signs on his sports complex? There have sure been some bumps in the road.
Leonsis’ Monumental Sports and Entertainment already postponed a hearing on legislation that would allow nine digital displays of indeterminate size, after hearing some feedback that downtown residents weren’t too hip on the idea. But opponents really shifted into gear after the next hearing was announced for this coming Monday. VIDA Fitness blasted out an email to its membership, warning that some of the signs would “literally cover the vast majority of VIDA’s leased space,” and linked to a petition by the anti-billboard group Scenic America. A bunch of historic preservation groups from all over the city piled on, and council offices started getting a lot of calls and emails on the subject.
So then, says council staffer Ed Fisher, Monumental Sports asked to have the hearing rescheduled for some time in March. “There needs to be more public outreach,” Fisher said.
Monumental Sports’ Randall Boe says it’s all a big misunderstanding: They’ve already modified the designs to make the signs smaller, and they now don’t cover VIDA Fitness’ windows at all. Furthermore, Boe says, the legislation would simply allow them to apply for permits, the size of which would be regulated by District agencies. They’ve met with VIDA owner David von Storch—-he is a Verizon Center tenant, after all—-and don’t understand why he’s so worked up.
“There is no picture that has us putting nine jumbotrons around the building. We’re not going to do that,” Boe said. “I don’t know if they don’t understand, or if they’re deliberately misstating it, but it’s not true…that email is so ridiculous, because it said that we have the ability to put anything we want up there, and we don’t.”
So now, Monumental’s going back on its charm offensive to show people the new designs (though Boe declined to send them over). And meanwhile, they’ve played the inside game as well, paying lobbyists from Venable $50,521 to work the Wilson Bulding on this issue over the last six months.
Of course, there are some people who likely oppose any new electronic signs, small or not. Committee of 100 president George Clark, who had signed up to testify against the bill, took issue the idea of granting a special exception to the city’s billboard law to a large corporation, as well as undermining billboard regulations in the future. “I think there does need to be some vigilance,” he said.
Another thing to note: Monumental Sports has said that the signs would generate $8 to $9 million in tax revenue over four years. According to Boe, that’s based on a consultant’s analysis which determined the signs could bring in between $20 and $30 million in revenue if they were fully booked from day one. But Monumental hasn’t asked for a fiscal analysis from the Chief Financial Officer, so that number should be taken with a big chunk of salt.