Downtown Jumbotron idea fades to black

A proposed jumbotron for Downtown New Westminster has had its lights turned off by city council before it was even ordered.

Plaza 88 Retail Developments had sought to put up a 68-square-metre digital sign on its wall facing Columbia Street near the intersection of Eighth Street. City regulations limit the size to no more than 20 square metres.

Although it was a split vote, council voted 5-2 to accept a staff recommendation not to approve the request.

"I have sympathies for the retailers in that project, and I want that project to succeed, but I just felt the billboard advertising was too large and not the right type of signage for that neighbourhood," said Coun. Jonathan Coté. "It would have been at the entrance for our historic Downtown and to me that just didn't fit."

In addition, a staff report noted the sign's bright lights would be across from the Inn of the Quay parking lot which is slated to eventually be turned into a residential development.

"It would be visible from a number of people on the Quay if they look across from their balcony," said Coté.

However, the Quayside Community Board (QCB) and the Downtown Residents Association offered no objection to the sign. QCB chair Penny McIvor said last month the association wants the shopping mall's businesses to succeed.

But Coté questioned how the sign would be able to get its message across since it would be almost on top of vehicles.

"Despite its size I'm not even sure how effective it would have been with people driving by and just seeing a blur of lights," said Coté. "Even though it would be large it would be such an angle most people wouldn't see it."

New Westminster architect Eric Pattison made a similar point in a letter to the city.

"The advertising efficacy of placing a large highway-scaled sign primarily facing the esplanade, market and hotel, and not visible to Columbia Street traffic, is questionable. Smaller-scaled signage, such as currently provided, should be more than enough. Indeed, the building itself successfully acts as a large, attractive sign," wrote Pattison.

He also said the historic aspect of the area should be taken into consideration because the city, community and business have worked hard to create an attractive ambiance.

"A billboard of this type is far out of scale, light intensity and message to support this goal. It will dominate all other lighting and character elements in the area and result in a negative general impression," said Pattison.

Couns. Lorrie Williams and Betty McIntosh did not agree with Coté and the majority of council. McIntosh said the discussion with the company proposing the huge digital board, Pattison Sign Group, had been getting to the point where enough concessions could have been made to make the proposal palatable such as putting the board to sleep at night or install dimming switches on it.

"That's doable," said McIntosh. "It sounds like a huge, horrendous size, but when it's put in scale against that wall, it's not that huge."

She rejected the suggestion approving the sign would be setting a precedent.

"Give me a break. Every single application that comes before us could be setting a precedent. You take each application on its merits," she said.

McIntosh said council has a double standard on the area's historical ambiance because the design of Anvil Centre, the new civic centre and office complex the city is building across Eighth Street from Plaza 88, doesn't have an historic look.

"Did the architect [of Anvil Centre] look at synthesizing with history? No, it looked at making history with the design," said McIntosh.

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