Mt. Washington sign

If you keep up with the news in Pittsburghas you no doubt do, astute reader of NEXTpittsburgh that you areyou already know that there has been plenty of chatter in recent weeks about a proposal to install a Hollywood-style letter sign that says “Pittsburgh” in place of the garish yellow Sprint banner currently atop Mt. Washington.

Not so fast, says Michael Dawida, executive director of Scenic Pittsburgh and author of the letter to current billboard owners Lamar Advertising that started this whole conversation.

“I’m not wedded to anything,” says Dawida. “We were much more nuanced in our approach. I’m open to other ideas and I think that’s why the idea took off like it did.”

On March 24, Dawida wrote to Lamar Advertising Company’s CEO and President asking Lamar to “explore options to donate this property to a worthy nonprofit organization” and suggested that “one possible goal could be to provide the city with an iconic Pittsburgh sign similar to the Hollywood sign in California and maximize the integration into the adjacent Emerald View Park.”

“The main issue is getting control of the rusting billboard that has been declared illegal by the city,” says Dawida. “I would be fine if it wound up being just part of the park and we knock down the thing and leave it as greenspace.”

Dawida says he has yet to receive a reply from Lamar. In response to WESA, who first reported on Scenic Pittsburgh’s proposal, Lamar said in a statement “The billboard has been, and continues to be, a legal advertising sign for the past 80 years.”

Established in 2010, Scenic Pittsburgh is dedicated exclusively to protecting, preserving and promoting the region’s scenic resources.

“Beauty is good for Pittsburgh and we want to inspire more beauty,” says Dawida. He called public reaction to his proposal “amazing” and said that 90 percent of the responses were positive.

On February 16, the Zoning Board of Adjustment ruled that the 7,200-square-foot vinyl Sprint sign violates the zoning code. In a press release, Mayor Peduto called the Sprint banner “an embarrassing eyesore” and asked Sprint and Lamar “to step up and do the right thing, remove this illegal sign, and come back to the table to propose a permanent reuse of the historic Mt. Washington sign.”

The city has been fining Lamar $1,000 a day for the Sprint advertisement.

Michael Grande, president of the Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation, says that his organization has not had formal discussions regarding the sign nor have they heard directly from Scenic Pittsburgh, but regardless of what happens, they want the community to have a say in the process.

His comments are echoed by Talia Piazza, chair of the Emerald View Park committee of the Mt. Washington CDC:

“We want a community process to happen and for the residents of Mt. Washington and Duquesne Heights to not only have a say in the future development and/or renovation of the site/sign, but also benefit from it.”

One idea being floated by MWCDC is a community benefits agreement that could provide income for the park and surrounding neighborhoods.

“We think there is an opportunity for this site to generate some steady and passive revenue that can benefit everyoneour community, the City of Pittsburgh, the region, and Lamar. That’s the conversation we’d like to start. “

Brian Conway

Brian Conway is a writer and photographer whose articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and local publications. In his free time, he operates Tripsburgh. Brian lives in the South Side.