Atlanta council OKs bright lights in new district to energize downtown

Derrick Harrison walks past the Coca-Cola temperature sign near Five Points in downtown Atlanta on the way to work on March 16, 2017.



Derrick Harrison walks past the Coca-Cola temperature sign near Five Points in downtown Atlanta on the way to work on March 16, 2017.

In an attempt to carve out a distinct identity for downtown Atlanta, the City Council voted to create a new district with special advertising rights that encourage more bright signs to light up the city sky.

Council members say the creation of an Atlanta Arts and Entertainment District can increase tourism, attract conventions and promote large events.

The concept is inspired by places like the San Diego Gaslamp Quarter and the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment District. Signs may be bright digital spaces and don’t have to adhere to traditional billboard dimensions; they can be square or vertical. They’ll advertise a mix of local events, art and businesses.

But the move has been met with opposition by some residents and groups who think adding the signs is unsightly, unsafe or unnecessary.

Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment District

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The unanimous approval of the legislation, first introduced about eight months ago, calls for the new district to be managed by the Central Atlanta Progress/Atlanta Downtown Improvement District.

The jagged boundaries will stretch from Underground Atlanta to the Georgia Aquarium and include some art galleries along Broad and Marietta streets.

The Atlanta Arts and Entertainment District

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At the City Hall meeting Monday, a few people spoke out against the arts and entertainment district, questioning the advantage of the added more lighted signs.

Representatives from the Atlanta Audubon Society said the nighttime lights would disorient birds, causing them to collide with buildings. And Zelda Jackson, a member of the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association, said downtown closes up shop at 5 p.m. She doesn't believe "just burning lights" is going to bring people out at night.

Instead, Jackson, who is running for the District 2 City Council seat, proposes a different kind of entertainment district that would incentivize developers to build 24-hour restaurants, grocery and retail stores to keep commerce and socialization in the area after dark.

Even one of the ordinance sponsors, Councilwoman Mary Norwood, seemed hesitant before Monday’s vote. She’d gotten a flurry of concerns about the proposal, and suggested one final meeting with area residents before making a decision.

The vote was ultimately taken, and the new district was unanimously approved.

Councilman Michael Julian Bond, the other ordinance sponsor, said the district will accentuate what “Atlanta already has.”

“It’ll bring in a more grandiose focus to the commerce and tourism of the area,” Bond said in an interview. “I don’t ever see it becoming like Times Square, but it’ll pretty it up a bit.”

Twenty-five sign locations will be designated across these few miles, and an 11-person committee will review sign permits according to a guidelines in a "sign plan."

Leaders are developing a process for property owners to begin applying for the new sign permits.

This article has been updated.

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