CoSign Article Published in Signs of the Times’ March 2017 Issue

An article about the past and future development of the CoSign program, which promotes economic development in communities by uniting designers, fabricators and end users to produce better signs, has been published in the March 2017 issue of Signs of the TImes magazine. Authored by FASI Executive Director Wade Swormstedt, the article outline the three iterations of the CoSign program in the Greater Cincinnati area, and the genesis of the program being instituted nationally this year. You can read the entire article at http://www.signweb.com/content/cosign-goes-national  

Iowa City Newspaper Lauds Projecting Signs Following CoSign Workshop at the American Sign Museum

Nate Kaeding is the Iowa City Downtown District’s retail development coordinator. He and other representatives from his city came to the American Sign Museum on February 20-21, 2017 to attend the CoSign workshop. CoSign is a program that connects merchants, designers and fabricators in order to create new and better signs, and promote economic development in communities.

Nate wrote a guest editorial for the Iowa City Press-Citizen’s February 21 edition under a headline of “2017 is the year of the projecting sign.” He writes abut the importance of having appropriate signage, and how Iowa City has changed its sign code to allow this. A portion of his editorial reads: ” The new creative signage will enhance the aesthetic and mood of downtown and add to our unique sense of place. This all will equate to more repeat customers at the stores, word-of-mouth marketing and economic vitality.”

To read the entire editorial, go to http://icp-c.com/2m5f3Mh  

 

The Signage Foundation Inc. becomes the Sign Research Foundation

The Sign Research Foundation (SRF), formerly The Signage Foundation, has a new name, look and website (www.signresearch.org), but it will continue its mission of empowering communities through research on vibrant and effective sign strategies, systems and codes.

“The new name better aligns with our mission of focusing on research into signs,” said Sapna Budev, SRF’s executive director. “We will expand our work in bringing together academicians, influencers and the industry to develop and promote stronger communities.”

The new website hosts the SRF’s latest sponsored research, and icons on the website facilitate finding research under myriad topics: best practices, design, illumination, legal, placemaking, safety, sign codes, value of signs and wayfinding. Additionally, all of the research is listed alphabetically by title. All of the peer-reviewed research is available free of charge.

SRF will host its annual National Signage Research & Education Conference (NSREC) April 19 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, and co-locate with the International Sign Association’s Sign Expo. Academicians will present current research, SRF’s research projects for 2017 will be outlined. This year’s NSREC will focus on the future of signage and anticipate how signs must adapt to function in the cities of the future.

American Sign Museum Expands CoSIgn Program Nationwide

The American Sign Museum (ASM), Cincinnati, has announced that its CoSign community-revitalization program, which partners local business owners with artists and sign companies to create new signage, is being replicated in in six cities nationwide, announced Tod Swormstedt, Executive Director of the ASM.

ASM first introduced the program in 2012 in Cincinnati’s Northside community, in which 10 businesses received free signs while working with a designer and fabricator.

Funding came from the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation, as well as an ArtPlace grant. A second iteration of CoSign occurred across the Ohio River in Covington, KY in 2013. That program was additionally supported by an Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The ArtPlace grant included the creation of a “toolkit,” so CoSign could be replicated elsewhere.

The six communities and the local sponsoring organizations are:

  • Alachua (FL) Chamber of Commerce for its downtown historic district.

  • The ArtPop Street Gallery for the Community Arts Organization in Charlotte, NC

  • Downtown Evanston, IL

  • The Historic Valley Junction Foundation in West Des Moines, IA

  • The Iowa City Downtown District

  • Uptown United Community Economic Development Organization (Chicago)

Two-day workshop for the groups will be held at the ASM in February 2017. The 6-7-month CoSign process will commence in March, with the ultimate unveiling of 10-12 signs in each community.

The 10 signs from the Northside CoSign program can be viewed online at https://visualingual.wordpress.com/2012/11/27/cosign-signage-in-cincinnatis-northside/

For more information, contact Tod Swormstedt at (513) 701-2183 or tod@americansignmuseum.org.

Can a Changeable-copy Sign Help a Business?

A car wash in California had a two-color, freestanding, rectangular ground sign. It replaced it with a sign of the same proportion, which constituted a multi-color, dimensional cabinet sign on a pole and a manual, changeable-copy sign below it. The sign cost $15,000.

In the first year after the new sign was installed, gross revenue for the car wash increased by $135,000 — 900% of the cost of the sign. A licensed appraiser said that the overall value of the sign was $340,000. The full story and detailed appraisal formulae were published in the September 1999 issue of Signs of the Times magazine.

How Did One Car Dealer Succeed When Three Others had Failed at the Same Lot?

Melvin Tuchez worked as an employee in the auto-sales business, and then he purchased his own dealership, Aztec Motors, in San Fernando, California. He believed three other auto-sales companies on the same site had failed due to inferior branding and weak management. He immediately began spending $16,000 per month on print and on-air advertising.

A sign company called upon Tuchez, and he purchased two on-premise, electronic pole signs. He reported an immediate increase of 10 walk-in customers per week, which resulted in six additional sales, and paid for the signs in less than a month. He subsequently reduced his advertising budget to $4,000 per month. Additionally, he began using the logo from his signs on sales and promotional materials.

The two signs cost $15,000. With the additional sales, and the reduction in other advertising costs, an appraiser calculated his savings over a three-year period at $400,000. Tuchez subsequently opened three additional Aztec Motors locations.

What Difference Does an Angled Sign Make Versus a Sign that’s Parallel to the Road?

Elsewhere in this series of questions, the difference in conspicuity for parallel and perpendicular signs is calculated, along with the requisite minimum sizes for the letters of each. But what if the local sign code won’t allow a bigger sign, and not enough projection length for a legible perpendicular sign? Would a sign with at least some angle make a difference?

Frenchy’s Bistro was located on Anaheim St., a busy thoroughfare in Long Beach, California. As one of four tenants in a commercial building, it had two signs: a non-illuminated wall sign and a tri-color canopy that projected the maximum 30 inches.

As an alternative, Frenchy’s purchased a “double-faced” electric, cabinet sign, but the sign faces weren’t back to back, but angled out from the wall in a V-shape toward each other.

Before the new sign(s) was(were) installed, Frenchy’s had $279,000 in pre-tax income annually. After the sign was installed, sales increased 16% immediately. Over the next year, they increased an additional 32%. The owners surveyed their guests and determined the sign was directly responsible for 10% of all sales. The net income directly attributable to the sign for a year was $16,182. The following year, it increased to $21,360. This also meant an additional $8,865 in state and federal income tax.

Other calculations for the $5,700 sign included that its cost per thousand exposures (CPM, the standard way to compare different forms of advertising) was 15 cents. The cost per month for the sign was $121.11. At the time (2000), other CPMs were as follows:

  • A 30-second, prime-time TV ad: $18
  • A half-page, black-and-white newspaper ad: $10.80
  • A full-page, four-color magazine ad: $8.70
  • A one-minute, drive-time radio ad: $5.30
  • A 30-day, 30-sheet poster panel: $1.60

The full story appears in the September 2000 issue of Signs of the Times magazine.

What Happened in the Denny’s v. Agoura Hills Pole-sign Case?

In 1985, the city of Agoura Hills, California enacted a sign ordinance that prohibited all pole signs, with the exception of a few that were less than 6 feet tall. It included an amortization period that ended in March 1992, at which time all of the pole signs would have to come down, without any cash compensation.

Agoura Hills is bisected by US Highway 101, which runs significantly high above the city. Thus, the only way highway motorists could know that gas stations and restaurants were located below was due to the high-rise pole signs.

Burger King, for example, conducted a traffic-flow study and discovered that 88% of the motorists who passed its restaurant did so on the highway. Only 12% passed it on the road below. The Burger King was specifically built to serve highway customers. Burger King determined that 60% of its sales were directly attributable to its sign. It calculated that the loss of the pole sign would constitute a $2 million loss in profit over a 15-year period.

As for other end users, the court found that the removal of pole signs would cause 35% loss of gross revenue for both Texaco and McDonald’s. This would mean $336,000 less revenue for Texaco in the first year the pole sign was removed, and $1.1 million loss for McDonald’s in its first year.

In 1983, California attorney Bob Aran authored a statute called Section 5499, which stated, “No city or county shall require the removal of any on-premise advertising display on the basis of its height or size by requiring conformance with any ordinance or regulation introduced or adopted on or after March 12, 1983, if special topographic circumstances would result in a material impairment of visibility of the display or the owner’s or user’s ability to adequately and effectively continue to communicate with the public.”

Although the city contended that it banned all pole signs, the court found that the ordinance “plainly discriminated between tall signs and short signs.” The court also ruled that “special topographic circumstances” referred not only to natural surface contours, but also to “all non-temporary surface conditions of whatever origin.” As for visual impairment, the court said more than natural impairments (hills, trees) had to be considered, such as buildings, utility poles, etc.

The court concluded, “The evidence clearly establishes that these special topographic circumstances would materially impair the visibility of conforming signs for each plaintiff. The plaintiffs are entitled to prevail, first of all, based on the material impairment of raw visibility.” Furthermore, if the ban were enforced, the court said conforming signs would not be visible at all from the area’s freeway, and that conforming signs would not be visible to freeway motorists in time to safely exit at the off ramp.

What’s the Economic Difference Between a Perpendicular Doubled-faced and Single-faced Sign?

When a Pier 1 Imports store opened in Germantown, TN (a suburb of Memphis), in 1991, it was granted a permit for a sign that faced west-bound traffic. However, no signage was visible to west-bound traffic. A few months after the store’s opening, sales were 25% below projections, despite typical promotions, advertising and direct mailings.

Pier 1 subsequently surveyed 200 shoppers through a market-research firm about having a second sign. The responses were the following.

Are the signs helpful to you? 66% said “very helpful;” 31.5% said “somewhat helpful,” and 2.5% said “not at all helpful.”

Does the sign increase public safety? 93% said yes; 75 said no.

Does the sign affect aesthetics negatively? 91% said no; 5.5% said yes, and 2.5% had no opinion.

Is the sign more of a public benefit or a public nuisance? 90.5% said benefit; 5.5% said nuisance, and 4.5% had no opinion.

Expert appraisal determined that the gross annual income for the store would be $1.2 million with the second sign, and $1,020,000 without it. Store officials stated that overhead and the cost of merchandise being sold was $1,020,000 so, without the second sign, the store would generate no profit.

As for the community itself, Pier 1 estimated that, without the second sign, it would pay, city, county and state taxes of $76,080. With the second sign and increased sales, it would pay $104,229. Thus the tax-revenue difference for the town would be $28,000.  Presented with this evidence, Germantown officials readily granted a variance for the second sign. The full story about this variance appeared in the April 1992 issue of Signs of the Times magazine.

What Does Amortization Mean for Signage?

Amortization concerns the compensation for a sign that is no longer in compliance when a sign code changes. The theory is that, if a sign is allowed to exist for a certain period of time, the owner of it will recoup their investment before the sign has to be removed, which is a way of circumventing the “just compensation” portion of the 14th Amendment. The fallacy of this is explained in the following article, written by certified planner Richard Bass, that appears in The Signage Foundation website’s Research Library. http://www.thesignagefoundation.org/Portals/0/SFI%20Amortization%20Explained.pdf

An example of appropriate argument for just compensation occurred in Richfield, Michigan with regard to a Michael’s crafts store. Its rooftop on-premise sign, which functioned like a billboard, had been built in the 1950s by the prior tenant. In 1987, Richfield banned rooftop signs. A 10-year amortization was included in the sign ordinance, and the Michael’s sign was ordered to be removed in 1998.

For “just compensation,” three valuation methods were used: cost of replacement, the income approach and a market comparison. Estimates were that Michael’s would need to spend $825,000 annually to replace the advertising value of its rooftop sign. Factoring in a 10% annual return on investment, this would mean the cost of replacing the sign’s advertising value would be $8.25 million.

As for income, the sign was calculated to account for 20-30% of the store’s sales. Conversely, the loss of the sign would mean a 20-30% decrease in sales. This would account for $200,000 less profit annually. Given the additional loss of investment income, the potential loss was calculated at $2 million.

As for replacement cost, based on a square-foot lease rate for a different use, the loss was calculated to be $56,000 annually. With a 10% investment revenue, this would mean a los of $560,000. Faced with this evidence, the court determined Richfield would have to pay cash compensation. A settlement occurred out of court. A full report on these proceedings appeared in the December 1998 issue of Signs of the Times magazine.

Conversely, others have failed to show an economic loss due to amortization. One instance occurred in Ridgeland, Mississippi in 1999. The city passed a sign ordinance that restricted ground signs to 50 square feet and a height of 12 feet, with exceptions for signs located within 300 feet of the Interstate highway. The ordinance included a five-year amortization period, which meant that legally erected signs, which would now become illegal with the passing of the sign ordinance, could stay up for another five years. But then they would have to be taken down, and that time period would suffice as just compensation.

Five years later, numerous businesses — Shoney’s, Midas Muffler, Red Roof Inns — filed an appeal to keep their signs. They invoked the precedent case of Lamar Adv. of South Georgia v. City of Albany (1990). The appeal process lasted three years, but the sign ordinance was upheld. The appellants erred in not documenting the economic ramifications of their signs being taken down, which is something Lamar had done when it won its appeal. This case is detailed in the June 1999 issue of Signs of the Times magazine.

As of November 2016, exactly half of the U.S. states (and the District of Columbia) recognize amortization as a legitimate form of just compensation, and the other 25 do not.