The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce gets to build the silver football-shaped building in downtown Oklahoma City, but the big flashing sign out front has to wait for now.
The city's Board of Adjustment voted unanimously Nov. 6 to approve exceptions to city code that would have required the chamber to build its building up to the street.
This means the design will remain as the architects intended, canting at an angle across a plot of land near the intersection of E.K. Gaylord and 3rd Street, despite the protests of those who wanted the green space preserved as a park.
Members of the board who approved the design said the oddly shaped piece of property would cause a hardship to the integrity of the building if the original city codes were enforced.
However, members of the board expressed skepticism about the flashing sign, which the chamber's request before the board called "an integral part of the building's design and purpose."
"I can't remember the last time we approved a sign like you are proposing " an animated sign," board chairman Steven Dobbs told chamber members.
Chamber President Roy Williams emphasized that the screen would be used to entice visitors to Oklahoma City as a hip destination.
"We continue to refer to it as a sign. In reality, it is called a media façade," Williams said. "Our intent is to use it to help sell people on Oklahoma City and also help sell OKC people on Oklahoma ... depicting things about Oklahoma and OKC specifically that would be phenomenal and would not be what you would see in most other communities."
But debate followed when board members questioned that the chamber would provide free advertising to certain events, such as games for the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team.
"So, we wouldn't see an advertisement that there is a Thunder game coming up? Or that there is a Blazers (game), or that there is a festival in Bricktown? That's commercial advertising," Dobbs said.
Chamber attorney John Michael Williams said yes, the Thunder would be advertised on the billboard along with other events.
"I think you would see things like that. But the Thunder could not buy advertising on this media board," Attorney Williams said. "You would see events going on. If there is to be a regatta, there would be notification of that. This was intended to be an informational medium."
"I struggle with this," said board chairman Dobbs. "If we are advertising an event, aren't we advertising someone to make money off of it? Not necessarily the chamber, but it's commercial advertising. That's why we've been very careful to preserve the city's appearance on animation, because at this point animation has not been allowed in the city on billboards. That's a problem."
Attorney Williams continued to insist that such advertising should be allowed because it would be free to the team:
"You cannot buy advertising here. I suppose it's a fine line between that which informs the public of community events and, um, advertising the sale of cars. Maybe the proper line of demarcation is, can you buy advertising on this media board? Absolutely not with this community media board we propose."
Dobbs said there might be a difference between using the board for city events and for promoting a ball team.
"The arts festival is a city festival," said Dobbs. "A ball game is a specific business group, and we are very protective about that. "¦ And once we open that door, it's open."
Williams countered that the chamber was a not-for-profit organization and would not profit off the sign. He said the sign would be used as an events calendar for the city and that leaving off significant events, such as a ball game, would be to the detriment of the city.
"Well, how would you differentiate this proposed sign from an animated billboard along the highway?" pressed Dobbs.
"No. 1, this is not along the highway. No. 2, it's all about the purpose," Williams said.
But as the debate wore on, it became clear that the major sticking point in the debate remained the sign. Eventually, Dobbs offered a choice to the chamber.
"You should have a sense of how the board feels about it, or you can ask for a continuance on that particular issue," Dobbs said.
"We badly need to site the building," Attorney Williams said. "The variance on the setback, we are crying out for that so we can go forward. "¦ The media board "¦ it's not structural, it's not holding the building up."
The board unanimously approved the variance for the building site " and granted an indefinite continuance for a decision on the sign. Chamber officials said a policy on the sign's use would be ironed out and a new request made at some point in the future.
PROTESTS BEFORE THE BOARD
Klint Schor, an Oklahoma City artist and advocate for using the area as a park:
"The deadCENTER Film Festival, the (Oklahoma City) Memorial (Marathon), the (Gazette's) Ghouls Gone Wild parade. It offers the public a place to sit in the grass and enjoy the Fourth of July fireworks. What better way to sell Oklahoma than having a venue for Oklahoma City residents to go to?"
"The public plaza they have shown in their drawings doesn't really coincide with real public use. It's all concrete, there's really not a place to sit, it's nothing like the green space that's currently there."
Architect Anthony McDermid, a member of the Downtown Design Review Committee forced to resign after city officials said his presence might be violating the law:
"This is not a popular decision with my chamber colleagues, but morally and ethically I feel compelled to talk about the project. "¦ It seems to me that this project makes absolutely no attempt to conform to the ordinance. Had it done so, I think it would have appeared to be a completely different project, one that would have been more dense, one that would not have covered half the site with a parking lot. "¦ You don't realize how important this space is to the life of downtown Oklahoma City (residents)." "Ben Fenwick