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Here’s why downtown Baltimore needs digital signs | READER COMMENTARY

Digital billboards like those lining New York City's Times Square could soon be coming to Baltimore's Pratt Street corridor under a Downtown Partnership of Baltimore plan. File. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images).
Digital billboards like those lining New York City's Times Square could soon be coming to Baltimore's Pratt Street corridor under a Downtown Partnership of Baltimore plan. File. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images). (ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

Downtown Partnership of Baltimore is working on an initiative that will bring new vibrancy, energy and walkability to the Pratt Street corridor. If enacted, commercial properties in a new special zoning district called North Harbor (or NoHa for short) will be able to integrate large format video screens onto their facades (”Downtown Baltimore could get digital signage under proposed legislation,” Oct. 7).

The screens will show a mix of art, advertising and community content while sparking new life in the lower portion of the Central Business District and Convention Center. This is the part of Baltimore where people expect visual dynamism. It’s also an area reinventing itself as changes in the office market increased vacancies and the pandemic deeply damaged businesses that rely on office workers, theatergoers and visitors.

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Based on what we’ve seen in cities like Atlanta and Denver, we know video districts create new visual gateways, attract people and improve the pedestrian experience. They’re also important for attracting major conventions and supporting large events such as Baltimore’s bid to host FIFA World Cup games in 2026.

The signs will be paid for by advertising and require no city funding. In fact, they will make money for the city by generating new taxes and minor privilege fees.

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Buildings in Baltimore can already request these kinds of signs, so why are we getting involved? Because instead of leaving the market to regulate itself, we want to create a uniform process with high standards for quality control, inclusive content and architectural integrity.

Video walls are just a medium. How they’re programmed will reflect our city’s personality and the people who make Baltimore so unique. Under our plan, a portion of the advertising revenue generated by the signs will be shared with the four arts and entertainment districts across Baltimore and 15-to-20% of the screen time will be dedicated to content from local businesses and artists.

We put a lot of work into getting this right over the past several months with dozens of meetings, direct mailings, hearings and public notices. But we’re not done yet. Next, we’ll form a community advisory panel with downtown residents, property owners and architectural experts to make sure each installation is an added benefit to our city, not a detraction.

Dynamic video walls are the next iteration of beloved icons like the Domino Sugars and Natty Boh man signs. We encourage everyone to help shape that future with us. The detailed plans and zoning map are posted on our website, www.GoDowntownBaltimore.com.

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Shelonda Stokes, Baltimore

The writer is president of Downtown Partnership of Baltimore.

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