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It's lights out for Bayer sign on Mt. Washington

| Thursday, July 31, 2014, 11:39 a.m.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
The Bayer sign on Mount Washington shows years of wear and tear, Tuesday, May 31, 2011. The pharmaceutical company has dropped its advertising on the lighted sign overlooking the city on Mt. Washington that has born its name since the 1990s.

Bayer Corp. will no longer pay to have its name in lights on Mt. Washington.

The Robinson company said Thursday it didn't renew a 21-year-old contract with Lamar Advertising for the iconic sign.

Bayer, the North American subsidiary of Germany's Bayer AG, has asked Lamar to turn off the aging neon-lit sign “as quickly as they can,” spokesman Bob Walker said.

The sign is in need of lighting upgrades and refurbishment, Walker said. “The lighting right now is old neon and fraught with burnout problems.”

Bayer officials believed they no longer need a highly visible way to gain name recognition that the 30-foot-tall sign affords, he said. Its advertising budget could be better spent in other ways that align with its mission, such as its partnership with the Carnegie Science Center, he said.

“We've been Bayer for so long on that sign ... for most purposes we're a well-known entity in Pittsburgh,” he said.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto blasted Lamar for allowing the sign to fall into disrepair.

“I can see why Bayer doesn't want to be identified with the Mt. Washington sign when it looks like garbage,” he said.

Nonprofit group Scenic Pittsburgh said Bayer's decision gives the community an opportunity to weigh in on the future of the sign. The organization wants residents to respond to a survey on its website, scenicpittsburgh.org.

“The sign has been deteriorating for years, becoming an increasing eyesore and marring the scenic beauty of Mt. Washington,” said Mike Dawida, executive director of Scenic Pittsburgh.

Jim Vlasach, real estate manager for billboard company Lamar, said repairs to the sign and lighting upgrades will begin as soon as city officials approve the work.

“It's going to have that same nostalgic look that everyone loves; that will remain the same,” he said.

Efforts are under way to find a new advertiser, but no company has signed on yet, Vlasach said.

Peduto wasn't familiar with the specifics of Lamar's plan, but has called for the sign to be rehabilitated.

While known as the Bayer sign, the neon billboard has featured a number of company names during its more than 90-year history, Vlasach said.

Bayer first leased the sign in 1993, when the company had changed its name from Mobay Chemicals to Miles Inc. Mobay was a joint venture formed between Bayer and Monsanto in 1958. The name Miles appeared on the sign until 1995, when the company's name was changed to Bayer Corp.

Vlasach said Alcoa, Iron City beer and WTAE-TV advertised on the sign over the years.

Walker said the Pittsburgh region shouldn't misread Bayer's decision to stop advertising on the sign as an indication that it isn't committed to the community.

“We are a major employer in Pittsburgh,” he said. “That commitment remains, and our decision on the sign has no real impact on our mission to be part of the Pittsburgh community.”

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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