Penguins signs held up by city billboard moratorium

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A proposal by the Penguins to put large banners depicting team stars and featuring the Reebok logo has apparently become a casualty of Pittsburgh government's ongoing sign debate -- and a subject of renewed political sparring.

The team contacted Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office with a proposal to put temporary signs on Fifth Avenue Place, Downtown, celebrating the team's ascent to the Stanley Cup Finals, the mayor said today. He viewed it as a good idea.

"I would certainly be willing to hang them somewhere," he said -- but only with City Council blessing. "I didn't feel comfortable unilaterally making that decision."

The administration tried to take the temperature of council, which on April 1 voted to place a moratorium on new advertising signs. The moratorium was a response to the permitting by the city Planning Department -- without public hearings or votes -- of a new Lamar Advertising electronic billboard on the front of the Grant Street Transportation Center.

At a meeting between administration and council members late Monday afternoon, all parties tried to find a way to permit the banner under the city code's sign rules. Councilman William Peduto said some of the ideas floated included requiring that the banner be owned by the nonprofit Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, that it be donated to charity after the finals are over and that it be authorized by a special council resolution.

"I don't think that anybody wanted to oppose it," Mr. Peduto said. "What we asked the administration to do was a little bit of work to find a way to make it legal."

Council President Doug Shields confirmed that account.

The mayor and a majority of council have been wrestling with sign rules since a Feb. 12 Post-Gazette story revealed the billboard plan, and the billboard is expected to become the subject of Zoning Board of Adjustment and City Planning Commission hearings and votes.

Mr. Ravenstahl said he believed "one or two council members" were intent on "making [a Penguins sign] a political issue."

"I've heard the term 'political' being used, and that's just a bold-faced lie," Mr. Peduto said.

Councilman Bruce Kraus, who authored the sign moratorium, said the administration engaged in only "some initial discussions with members of council. My understanding is that the administration pulled it."

He said he didn't know enough about the signs to say whether he would support their posting.

"I think we need to put the banners up," said Councilman Jim Motznik. "I don't believe legislation is necessary to put up some temporary banners to celebrate the fact that the Penguins are in the Stanley Cup Finals."

Mr. Ravenstahl said he did not know whether the signs had been manufactured. Nor did Penguins spokesman Tom McMillan, who said the team had essentially given up on the idea of the banners by last weekend.

"We decided that it just wasn't practical," Mr. McMillan said.

Mr. Shields had this advice for fans who might have wanted to see huge Penguins signs: "Get a bed sheet and hang it off your front porch."


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