Legal, planning continue to work on Market East sign bill

City planners and lawyers are re-tooling proposed legislation that would allow animated and electronic billboards and building wraps along a section of East Market Street, from 7th Street to 13th Street.

As a result, a Rules Committee hearing on the bill that was slated for this morning was rescheduled  – date to be determined.

The legislation, first proposed by First District Councilman Frank DiCicco, but in this go-round jointly introduced by DiCicco and at-large Councilman James Kenney, aims to liven up a mostly dead part of town and through fees charged to the sign owners, raise money to rehab properties that are in bad shape.

“At night, from 12th Street east to 4th Street, Market Street is a dead zone,” DiCicco said Tuesday morning. “The core of our Center City – any center city for that matter – should not be closing its doors at 5:30 p.m.

DiCicco talks about the proposal.
Philadelphia Planning Commission Executive Director Gary Jastrzab and Commission Chairman and Deputy Mayor for Planning and Development Alan Greenberger both said last week that they support DiCicco’s idea that some visual flash could help revive East Market Street, but they could not support the legislation as written.

Planning commission staff was concerned that the version on the table is written too broadly and could allow large, flashy billboards on just about any building in the commercial advertising district the bill would create – even the historic properties the bill specifically sets out to protect.

The issues “are not life threatening” DiCicco said, but everyone agreed that holding off on the public hearing for a few weeks is a good idea.

The hearing was still on the Rules agenda as late as last evening. Not knowing that it would be postponed so further refinements could be made, the planning commission voted to oppose the bill last week, just in case the current version moved forward.

DiCicco said he anticipated an amended version of the bill to be the topic of a hearing within several weeks. Meanwhile, he said, meetings with interested parties will continue. Among them: Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), the owners of the Gallery at Market East. Paul Levy, executive director of the Center City District. Mary Tracy, co-founder of SCRUB, an anti-blight organization that fights the proliferation of billboards.

DiCicco said he doesn’t want anyone to think his bill will create a Times Square kind of environment in Philadelphia. But he believes the fancier signs will attract new businesses, by allowing them to better market themselves if they locate in the corridor, and jazz up the existing space.

He thinks of the large, mostly-blank cement walls of the Gallery at Market East. They would look so much better, he said, if they were adorned with something more interesting to look at.

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