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Skyline-defiling signs targeted by council chief

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Monday, July 22, 2013, 11:06 p.m.

Pittsburgh City Council President Darlene Harris wants to stop Downtown building owners from erecting signs on top of their properties.

Harris said the signs, including company names and logos, clutter the city skyline and detract from its aesthetic splendor. The lifelong North Side resident proposed legislation that would prohibit signs erected 40 feet or higher on Downtown buildings.

Real estate brokers say the legislation is discriminatory and could hurt building marketability. But one developer said he understands Harris' concerns.

“I don't, as a developer, feel at all worried about having to conform to a reasonably crafted signage requirement that limits signs to something that doesn't disrupt the continuity of the visible landscape,” said Mark Minnerly, director of real estate development for Downtown-based Mosites Co.

Harris said signs are destroying the city skyline and do not mesh with historic city architecture.

“Architects did not intend their artful creations to be pylons for billboards,” she said. “This is the city's artwork. It shouldn't be a bunch of advertising.”

Existing signs would be grand-fathered under the legislation, which amends an ordinance. Council has scheduled a preliminary vote for Wednesday.

Jason Stewart, executive vice president of Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial real estate firm with 400 clients Downtown, said rooftop signs provide optimum exposure for companies in the Pittsburgh market.

“The allure won't be as great to relocate to another building and to reinvest in other space Downtown,” he said.

Jeffrey Ackerman, managing director of global real estate firm CBRE Inc.'s Downtown offices, said the legislation is discriminatory because existing signs would be permitted.

“Many real estate owners or occupiers of space would be opposed to it,” Ackerman said. “It's more of a fairness issue. You're not playing with a level playing field.”

Harris has been a proponent of limiting advertising in the city and co-sponsored legislation last year to tax billboards. The legislation, which passed, places a 10 percent levy on revenue generated by billboards.

Lamar Advertising, the largest advertiser in the city, responded by posting at least 12 billboards around the city that criticized Harris and her co-sponsor, Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak.

She said other cities, including New York, have enacted similar restrictions.

“Can you imagine a sign on top of the Empire State Building?” she asked. “I think it's time to draw the line.”

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or

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