Atlanta Moves Forward With Controversial Downtown Ad District

(Photo by Terence S. Jones)

Earlier this month, a group of artists sued the city of Atlanta, claiming that its regulations of murals on private property were unduly onerous and violated free speech laws. Now, the city is lifting regulations on billboards and other digital ad signage downtown with the hopes of creating more vibrancy.

The Atlanta City Council voted in favor of easing restrictions on downtown signage last week, WSB-TV 2 reports. Central Atlanta Progress, a private nonprofit with ties to the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, introduced the proposal, which would “create a new Arts and Entertainment District that would allow dynamic, LED signs downtown — similar to those in New York City’s Times Square or Denver’s Theatre District,” according to WABE. The idea is to draw more people downtown.

“When we talk about downtown, people have an affinity for it as a place, whether they live here, work here, maybe they just come to visit every once and awhile,” Jennifer Ball, the nonprofit’s vice president of planning and economic development, told the local NPR station. “But we constantly hear people say they want more street activity.”

The digital signs are for advertising, but revenue is slated to go toward funding public art and entertainment, WABE reports. The Atlanta Downtown Improvement District will manage them. But flashing lights and visual stimulation don’t fit into everyone’s definition of “vibrancy.”

“I guess digital billboards might make things seem a little bit more lively but I think … you’ve got to put things here that people might actually want to come see,” downtown worker Mike Saba told WSB-TV 2.

And some residents who actually live downtown aren’t thrilled at the idea, which could position LED lights uncomfortably close to their bedrooms. Jamie Henderson, who lives in downtown’s Fairlie-Poplar District, told WABE that while the area lacks some things, residents have repeatedly asked for a grocery store, more greenery and an expanded streetcar, not more digital advertising.

Last year, the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, crafted legislation in the opposition direction of Atlanta, revamping its sign bylaws to more tightly regulate digital advertising, as Next City covered at the time. The move was a response to one particularly controversial billboard that cruised a water inlet downtown, flashing advertisements for a mortgage broker, among other businesses. São Paulo, Brazil, Chennai, India and Grenoble, France have also worked to reign in digital advertising in recent years.