Housing Complex

Blasted By Opposition to Lighted Signs on Verizon Center, Ted Leonsis Asks For More Time

The first round of designs. In the new one, no signs cover VIDA's windows. (Photo of Monumental Sports powerpoint by Lydia DePillis)

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.

  • Dave

    Forgive me for asking the obvious: but why the hell are the historic preservation groups gettign involved? Last time I checked, Penn Quarter wasn't an historic district, and the Verizon Center wasn't an historic building. What possible issues regarding billbords would historical preservation groups possibly be raising?

    Vida Fitness and its patrons have legitimate complaints however--I'd be pretty angry too if someone wanted to come in and block half of my windows.

  • Drez

    What a bunch of weasels.

  • Rick

    Vida.....good luck with your lease renewal. Hope you have a lot of time on your current lease.

  • http://ghostsofdc.org Ghosts of DC


    I think the issue is less about historic preservation and more about ridiculous light and noise pollution. Gallery Place looks more and more like Times Square and most people think that's a bad thing. So yes, I'm not quite sure why historic preservation groups are getting involved...my guess is that they are the most organized and influential neighborhood groups around.

  • Press to Digitate

    The five jumbotrons currently on 7th Street have brought a lot of life to an otherwise dismal looking block.

    Exactly what "residents" are there for whom it would matter? The homeless on the front stoop of the Library? From what I can see, there are nothing but commercial windows with line-of-site to that stretch of Verizon Center. Condo dwellers? Since when do they get a vote on signage out on the street? Did (or should) anyone near Times Square in NYC get to stand in the way of its development? Why should DC be less 'urban chic' than New York, just because of some provincial NIMBY wanna-bes?

  • DC Guy

    Wait, so this is about gym patrons who are concerned about the viewshed while they are spinning versus a billionaire sports mogul who wants to make a few more bucks?

    I, for one, like the uniqueness that the billboards bring to Gallery Place. I, for one, am offended that the preservationist army was engaged to do the bidding of a Verizon Center tenant.

    Wake me when there is something important to discuss.

  • anon

    if you bothered to read the statements of the preservation groups rather than just spouting off, they are mostly concerned with an exemption setting a precedent for others to request further exemptions. It's a zoning issue that has District-wide implications.

    For example, perhaps a future exemption impacts the major scenic views of DC simply be strategic placement. It would be dramatic to say we're moving closer and closer to an Idiocracy kind of place where every public space is for sale and crassly exploited, but in some ways it's not that far fetched.

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  • Bryan

    I saw a mockup here: http://pqinsider.blogspot.com/2012/01/new-plans-for-verizon-center.html - I don't think the new plans are that obtrusive to the neighborhood or to Vida members, really. Seems like they should be able to move forward.