Ugly multi-story billboard reflects badly on Atlanta

By Maria Saporta

It’s baaaack.

The super, mega, wrap-around sign on the historic Medical Arts building on Peachtree Street downtown is all the evidence we need to show that our city is not working.

Complaint after complaint has been filed against the owners of the 384 Peachtree building — which is highly visible going north or south on the Downtown Connector — for violating the city’s sign ordinance.

We are not supposed to be a city of billboards. We certainly are not supposed to be a city where advertisers can wrap an unsightly canvas pimping their products on an historic high-rise building.

This is not the first time this issue has come up. Last year, the building got taken over by ads, and eventually the city or the community put enough pressure on the building owners to take it down.

Medical Arts Building - MetroPCS

So why is it back?

That’s a question that Kyle Kessler, a downtown resident an engaged citizen, wants answered.

He sent an email wondering why “MetroPCS would want to advertise illegally on a vacant building in downtown Atlanta that has quite a history of code compliance violations?”

But more importantly, Kessler wants to know why the sign is being tolerated by our city government.

Kessler sent an email to city leaders demanding action to get the sign removed.

“I appreciate your prompt attention to this matter and would encourage the City to take appropriate action regarding enforcement — understanding the City’s authorization to remove the illegal sign and place a lien on the property per Sec.16-28A.015,” Kessler wrote the city.

At the PEDs membership meeting last night, Kessler said the city still has not taken action against the building owners.

Why not?

Wrapping around an historic building with a MetroPCS sign cheapens our city and diminishes our desire to become an attractive cosmopolitan community.

Ideally, the building owners would spend their energies trying to bring new life to the old building rather than creating a blight on our city’s skyline in order to make a quick buck.

No matter what, the city should not tolerate the sign being there for another day. And it needs to make sure that the building owners won’t flaunt the city’s sign ordinance and put up another mega billboard whenever it wants to.

Meanwhile, customers of MetroPCS should let their service provider know that paying money for such a gaudy and garish advertisement is doing the company more harm than good.

And the city should punish the building owners with every weapon in its legal limits.

It’s a matter of being a good corporate citizen. It’s a matter of good taste (or the lack thereof).

So enough already.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

22 replies
  1. ATLJOE says:

    Really? Was the broken-glass graffiti covered eyesore a better site for the connector travelers? That building is not going to be renovated any time soon with the glut of office space, hotels and condos. I find it a good interim solution.Report

  2. Kyle Kessler says:

    The broken glass and graffiti are also code violations that have been filed with the City for years. The building should be cleaned, repaired, and secured. Instead, the property owners are looking for some easy money rather than fixing those problems. A jumbo-sized billboard is not the answer.Report

  3. downtown resident says:

    I live two blocks from there and I think the billboard looks a lot more attractive than the huge unkept building that serves as a homeless shelter and a
    bird-house. Besides there are a lot of unsightly things downtown. Why hasn’t the awning that was ripped-off from the tornato ever been repaied that used to cover the parking deck over the Chinese restuarant next to CNN?Report

  4. MJK says:

    The advertising is much better than looking at that bombed out building everyday. What’s wrong with being a city with advertising? Ever been to Times Square?Report

  5. Sally Flocks says:

    Anyone who thinks this billboard is a good idea needs to read James Kunstler’s book, The Geography of Nowhere. Historic buildings are what make cities unique.

    Atlanta has been far too tolerant of code violations for years. I hope Mayor Reed is serious about shifting responsibility for code enforcement to the Atlanta Police Department.Report

  6. MarkatTwelve says:

    Since the city has failed to enforce codes, the sign might seem to be an enhancement. However, the owner is in violation of a host of codes. Let’s hold him to account.
    It is unfair for him to benefit from his own negligence. He should upgrade the building to the minimum standard as outlined in city code.Report

  7. Max Shirley says:

    Some people may prefer a gigantic ad. I personally prefer the character, if disheveled, that hides beneath. Looking down the street, the building may look old and rundown, but it does not disrupt the skyline. I find the building signs jarring.

    Regardless of your aesthetic preference for punch-you-in-the-face commercialism or urban decay, the real point here is that you have a building owner who is apparently not interested in fixing up the building and has proven a general disregard for the City of Atlanta and its laws (and by extension – you).

    The owner may argue that this sort of revenue can keep them afloat until the market allows them to develop the property, but it sounds like the history shows they are disingenuous and only willing to do less than the minimum while snubbing the law as long as they can get away with it. I can’t imagine whatever they develop in the future will be something to look forward to.

    Get ’em on the right track or get ’em out.


    PS Yes, you’re free to use my photo for your blog post.Report

  8. downtown resident says:

    Why don’t the city require that the owner’s of the building that are on Peachtree Street near Underground do something about the building’s facades.
    Good grief, Talk about a 3rd world country!Report

  9. Justme says:

    I live 2 blocks from this building. Everytime my friends come in town and see this building, they are scared to get out of the car and walk the streets of downtown. Covering this unsightly thing is a step in the right direction for cleaning up the community. And for the argue of being a city of billboards, I don’t see any complaints about the Mega-screen billboard at the W Hotel a few blocks down the street….. (Now that’s loud advertising)!!! I say keep the advertising going and change the laws for Atlanta’s decaying historic buildings.Report

  10. Me says:

    Tear the unsightly building down! It’s just a mound of ruble (bricks and mortar). Not like it has any historical signifacance other than the age of it. I have seen pics of downtown Atlanta before developers came in and demolished what was once a fantastic downtown. Now most of downtown is just concrete parking structures with no ground retail or just vacant lots. Why not add one more building to the list?Report

  11. Charlie says:

    This is a landmark building in Atlanta and it is a shame that it has been allowed to deteriorate for so long. The owner should secure and fix the building, not cover up his deferred responsibilities with gaudy ads.Report

  12. zedsmith says:

    the first thing I thought of when I saw the ad was of the other, more cosmopolitan American cities I’ve been to who allow advertising like this– namely chicago. So no– I don’t think this is a cheapening any more than ads wrapped around MARTA buses or posted in bathroom stalls.Report

  13. Tom says:

    Wrapping buildings (even bldgs of historic significance) is actually a pretty common practice across the country. Off the top of my head I can think of two similarly wrapped buildings in Manhattan and one in Philadelphia. I personally don’t like it, but agree that it beats the alternative of vacant building with broken windows.Report

  14. Kyle Kessler says:

    The facts are that the property’s owners are in violation of city ordinances for not properly maintaining their building and for not obtaining the necessary permits from the city or state for the installation of the signs. If you feel that Atlanta should have more vacant, historic buildings wrapped in advertising so that Atlanta can be more like New York or Philadelphia – please contact your city councilperson or state representatives. In the meantime, I will continue to ask those charged with enforcing current regulations to perform their duties.

  15. zj says:

    I’ve lived in Atlanta all my live (50+years) and have watched this building languish for decades. It’s distressing to watch such a handsome building fall apart, puzzling given its proximity to the “trophy” high-rise downtown/midtown district. The sign isn’t nearly as distressing as the building’s sad condition. In Europe it’s common to wrap historic structures to hide the work of restoration going on underneath (although the image is commonly one of the building restored). The real problem here is the underlying apathy of city hall and the failure of the city to police its own living room. City officials haven’t called the owner’s to task simply because, for so long now, there isn’t anyone down on Trinity that actually cares.Report

  16. Mike says:

    The point is not that an “ugly” building is being covered, and although I appreciate Kyle’s comments, the violation of city code is only beside the point. Covering an entire building with commercial advertisements is cheap, and reflects cheaply on the city. People mention Times Square, but New Yorkers don’t go there, only tourists. Would you actually want to LIVE in Times Square with all the flashing adds in your face on a daily basis? The closest thing I can imaging is living in Las Vegas, which is not necessarily attracting a lot of residents right now. The bottom line is that whether you think a dilapidated building is an eyesore or not (I happen to agree that it adds character in Downtown’s concrete jungle), taking a step towards Atlanta looking like the Los Angeles of Blade Runner is a leap in the wrong direction.Report

  17. Tim Ralston says:

    True, the owner should be taken to task by the city for neglecting the responsibilities of ownership. But it is also true that the city should be teaming with the building owner to find a way to make the building economically useful. It is difficult to convert an old (historic) building with low slab to slab dimensions such as this into a funcitoning modern environment without the help of the city providing incentives and variances to make the numbers work. Both carrots and sticks are appropriate here.Report


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