Tempe restricts business signs and billboards more than just about any community in the Valley, though people might not realize that, considering a recent building boom of signs.
The city is allowing one highly visible new billboard — and taking half the profits from sale of advertising on it. The board would rise at the Broadway curve portion of Interstate 10. It’s the state’s busiest freeway segment, carrying more than 250,000 vehicles a day.
And Tempe allowed an unprecedented wall of signs at the new Tempe Marketplace.
The Marketplace signs and four billboards along the Red Mountain Freeway stretch of Loop 202 generate more complaints than nearly any other property in the city, said Jeff Tamulevich, the city’s commercial code compliance supervisor.
People want to know why so many big signs could go up and why new billboards lined the freeway, he said.
The city banned billboards in 1969 and has about 15 left, allowed to stay because they were there before the ban.
When Vestar developed Marketplace, it struck a deal with Tempe to move the billboards from along McClintock Drive and Rio Salado Parkway to the freeway.
Though the signs are seen by more people now, drivers on Tempe roads generally can’t see them.
Councilman Ben Arredondo said the billboards are justified because of sales tax revenue the shopping center will generate for Tempe. Also, it’s no longer industrial properties and landfills, he said.
“We used to have a junkyard out at the Marketplace and now we have a vibrant mall,” Arredondo said.
Tempe approved one new billboard last week along I-10, on the grounds of Tempe Diablo Stadium, the spring training home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, which would own the billboard.
The team’s interest in the sign likely stems in some part from club owner Arte Moreno, who became a billionaire after selling a billboard company. Forbes magazine named him the 354th richest American in 2006.
Tempe would get half the profits if Moreno’s team builds the sign. City officials said they don’t know if or when the team would construct it or how much money it would generate.
“To give you a number would be a guess and therefore it would be incorrect,” said Jeff Kulaga, interim city manager.
The city could spend the money in any way it pleases. Arredondo suggested it go to charities through the nonprofit Tempe Community Council.
Tempe doesn’t get a cut from the Marketplace billboards, which stand 70 feet tall and are about 48 feet by 14 feet in area. The boards are set to come down in 14 years.
A wall of Marketplace signs facing Loop 202 hasn’t generated any complaints, said David Malin, a Vestar senior project manager.
The signs complete a theme of bright lights through the center, including a laser light show, Malin said. He figures the signs are an improvement over the industrial area Vestar bulldozed to build the $300 million center.
“That’s always been the gateway to the city of Tempe,” Malin said. “When you compare it with what was there a couple years ago to what’s there today, it’s pretty special.”
Tempe’s restrictive sign code is still in place. The signs at Marketplace are allowed only because the city sign rules don’t apply to one zoning area that covers three locales — Marketplace, Arizona Mills mall and the Emerald Center along I-10, home of IKEA.
Those areas don’t have any sign restrictions, Tamulevich said, other than the City Council must approve a developer’s request.
The city is fielding fewer complaints now that the signs have been in for several weeks, Tamulevich said.
“People are getting used to it,” he said.