On Monday, the Historic Landmarks Commissions held the much-anticipated public hearing on the proposed change to the "Made in Oregon" sign. After a two-plus hour meeting, no decision was made and Ramsey Signs was asked to return on April 6th to present design modifications.
The Commission did, however, clarify what it can consider in making its decision. The Commission sees this proposal as a straightforward adaptive reuse case, which the Commission deals with regularly.
Commissioners stated that they could not control the message of the sign because of the Oregon Constitution's first amendment regarding free speech. The Commission has control over the look of the sign—including its shape, font, and size—but not the message.
The Commission has received over 300 emails and letters regarding this proposal. By a four to one margin, the opinions expressed oppose the proposed change. A Facebook page to save the sign has over 10,900 members.
The main message from those who oppose the change was that "Made in Oregon" has come to mean something much more to citizens than a simple advertisement for a chain of stores. The sign, they argue, has become an icon for the city and state, regularly appearing in the media when Oregon is referenced.
Supporters of the change argue that the University of Oregon has the legal right to change the sign. In addition, the University spent $17 to $20 million to preserve and renovate the historic building in Old Town. That investment demonstrates the University's long-term commitment to the city. In the past, the sign has been changed to represent the resident of the building, and now that the University resides there, supporters beliver the sign should be changed again.
Darryl Paulsen of Ramsey Signs said that the sign needs a sponsor in order to survive. It's too expensive for Ramsey to maintain and operate on its own. Without a sponsor, the sign may be dismantled and lost forever. City Commissioner Randy Leonard has suggested that the City consider buying the sign to preserve it. For that to happen, Ramsey Signs, the U of O, and Venerable Properties—the building owner—would all have to agree to the purchase.
The proposed change, which appears to be simple at first glance, is a complicated issue with no easy solution.
Historic Landmark Commissioners have noted and considered the large amount of public comment. Several times during the hearing, Commissioner Harris Matrazzo held up a stack of printed emails and letters noting to all concerned the strong public opinion on this proposal and that the Commission has never seen this kind of public input on any previous proposal.
I think the following statement by Commissioner Matrazzo best represents the Commission's position, the restrictions within which it operates, and the hope for a solution beyond what the Commission's authority allows.
Our thanks go to Darryl Paulsen of Ramsey Signs for providing us with the photos used in this post.
Want to express your opinion?
Since the hearing has been continued, the record remains open and you can enter your comments into the public record. Please be sure to reference case file LU 08-191800 HDZ (White Stag Sign) in your submission.