Illegal signs at Veterans Memorial Arena?

Councilman introduces bill to ban outdoor ads on arena, other buildings

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – This week the eyes of sports fans from around the country will be focused on Jacksonville Memorial Arena as it hosts opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Something those fans might see besides basketball are huge advertisements for local law firm Hunt, Green & James that are splashed across the building. The ads are part of an agreement SMG -- the company that runs the arena -- and the law firm worked out as a sponsorship deal.

But the legality of the signs is in question because of the city's sign ordinance that limits advertising off-site -- in places where the services aren't available.

City Councilman Bill Bishop, who is also a candidate for mayor, introduced legislation to ban the signs, which have been up for months.

"The problem is we are turning the arena into a NASCAR exhibit," Bishop said. "I don't want to see outdoor advertising all over that building. And the ones that are there now set a very bad precedent."

Some people News4Jax interviewed Monday agreed with Bishop and said the signs have got to go.

"It's kind of an eyesore. It's a beautiful building to start with. We got billboards for that kind of thing," arena patron Jeff Connelly said. "This is such a beautiful building; leave it natural, the way it was."

City lawyers are looking at the legality of the current sponsorship deal. According to Bishop, the law firm paid nearly $300,000 for sponsorship at the arena, which includes the advertising on the outside. It's a three-year deal.

Bishop said if the council can't get rid of these signs, it needs to make sure the signs don't go up again when the contract expires.

"The design of the building does not lend itself to a lot of outdoor advertising," Bishop said. "It makes it look tacky, and it's not a tacky building. It's a nice building. And when you clutter it up with junk on the outside, it just makes it look really bad."

Bishop's bill doesn't stop with the arena. It would also ban outdoor signs at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. Inside, signs along the outfield wall would still be allowed. And it does not affect the signs at EverBank Field.

The head of the council finance committee, Richard Clark, disagreed with Bishop and said SMG was told to find more revenue.

"SMG is charged with doing exactly what they are doing and that is bringing in revenue, getting creative and finding sponsors, and they've done just that," Clark said.

Matthew Hunt of Hunt, Green & James said the partners are taken aback by Bishop's reaction. He said they have the support of veterans and had the city's approval. He said their signs are simple and not tacky.

Jacksonville Sports and Entertainment Officer Dave Herrell released a statement about the signs. In a nutshell, it said the signs are part of a sponsorship package that is key to help keep the costs down at the arena, and it's something done in other cities.

"The Veterans Memorial Arena continues to be viable host for a diverse portfolio of events and has tremendous momentum as a destination for major events, concerts and community opportunities," the statement said.

The City Council rules committee approved the sign-banning measure, which will go to several other committees this week. It could be taken up by the full council next week.

News4Jax attempted to contact SMG for comment, but officials have not responded yet.

Since Bishop is a candidate for mayor, News4Jax also checked with the other three candidates, but so far, none have responded.

About the Author: