Sacramento should be wary of a ‘Special Sign District’ near new Kings arena

Does our forthcoming new downtown need more promotional movie banners draped on the sides of buildings, and glowing LED billboards celebrating the likes of craft beer and barbecue?

These types of high-profile advertisements rake in a lot of coin, and that’s why, in the coming months, the city of Sacramento will consider the creation of a downtown “Special Sign District.”

The proposed sign district would encompass J to L streets from Third to Seventh, a corridor that includes the new arena, four historical buildings, presumed remnants of the old mall and the forthcoming Downtown Commons shops, restaurants, bars and a hotel with residences.

The driving force behind the district is, presumably, the opportunity to rake in serious dollars from mostly local, but some national, advertisers, companies and brands that want to reach the hundreds of thousands of arena attendees each year.

The catch is that the city and the Kings want the new arena to be a place where members of the community join together. The term they use is a “regional center.” And, while this paper has been critical of the arena subsidy—and we’ve groaned at branding like “DoCo”—we, too, want this new downtown hub to succeed.

So, will signs prove attractive to the community—or will the ad onslaught be a turnoff?

We’re more than a bit concerned about the Entertainment and Sports Center Special Sign District, a project simmering for more than a year at City Hall and that finally was scheduled to appear in front of city council this past Tuesday.

The good news is that city staff is asking the right questions. They don’t want our new downtown to become the next Times Square. Phew! And they’re worried about signs that compromise historical buildings, or liposuction billboards, the overconcentration and oversaturation of signage, and ads that, generally speaking, make downtown a corporate-branding hellhole.

A staff report on the sign district even notes that, if the new downtown signs consist mostly of present Sacramento sign inventory, “existing outdoor advertising would not enhance the district.” In other words, the signs that we already see around town might make the new downtown look ugly.

We’re worried about sign upkeep. The city is floating the idea of having a private group operate and maintain all the signs. That could work—but maintenance is costly, and if these dozens of glowing LED signs and towering ads on building facades aren’t properly maintained, downtown could look haggard and tacky.

The city planning and design commission cautioned staff last year to “be bold but respectful” with the sign district. We’d like to add: less is more. A lot less. Lest we end up greeting the world with a 70-foot banner of Seth Rogen on the side of the Holiday Inn.