The sign goes up for Ponce City Market, the former Sears building on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta that s being renovated into new office, retail and restaurant space.

Sign of the times

The sign for Ponce City Market went up a couple of weekends ago, and Atlanta’s newest icon was met with spontaneous applause from onlookers on the Beltline.

Seriously. People stopped to watch the crews work and to take selfies and other pics. And when the last piece of the sign — with the “PO” — was attached, they clapped and cheered.

That’s a lot of goodwill no one can buy.

It’s also a good sign for Ponce City Market, the old Sears building on Ponce de Leon Avenue that’s being famously renovated into new office, retail and restaurant space. It’s a centerpiece and a symbol for positive urban renewal, and we have a lot of that going on here in Atlanta. People are proud about it.

In this city that has often buried its past at first opportunity, it’s heartening to see this movement toward reclaiming, redesigning and re-using it.

In addition to Ponce City Market, we have the Atlanta Beltline – a bunch of railroad tracks being unearthed, refurbished and turned into an “emerald necklace” around the city’s core; Krog City Market – an old warehouse not coincidentally near the Beltline and PCM that bustles with restaurants and shops; and the Atlanta Streetcar, another piece of the puzzle connecting neighborhoods and linking us to the past.

The Ponce City Market sign did something magical for an already high-impact project. It gave the sprawling brick structure, and even the gentrified neighborhood nearby, a focal point and identity – an instant icon in a city so desperate for them that we claimed such status for the SoSoDef billboard that greeted visitors on the interstate for years.

From any small town’s water tower to Los Angeles’ “Hollywood” sign, images like this do more than remind us where we are. They boost civic pride and our sense of community. They give us immediate reference points. They let us associate today with yesteryear.

Think about these in metro Atlanta:

• The Fox Theatre marquee.

• The Coca-Cola sign on the company’s headquarters on one end of North Avenue – and its mural painting on the side of Manuel’s Tavern on the other.

• Krispy Kreme (“Hot Donuts Now”) on Ponce.

• The Olympic torch by Turner Field.

I’m not sure the SkyView Ferris wheel downtown is going to become our version of Seattle’s Space Needle. But it does, surprisingly, serve as a beacon where the College Football Hall of Fame, Centennial Olympic Park and Center for Civil and Human Rights converge. And it’s something we hunger for in sprawling metro Atlanta.

Which gets us back to the Ponce City Market sign. It’s new, yet designed to fit the retro style of the century-old building. It doesn’t try to do anything more than it needs to. And it does what it needs to do so spectacularly.

Is this giving too much significance to a sign hanging over one street, in one neighborhood, in one city?

Not here. In Atlanta, that sign really sings.

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Jay Croft is an Atlanta communications consultant and writer who blogs at storycroft.com.

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