Sign of the Times 

Center City Commission proposes new rules for downtown signage.

Think of your least favorite sign in downtown Memphis. Got it? Wish you could have it changed? Removed? Blown up?

While you might not be able to pull out the heavy artillery just yet, the Center City Commission (CCC, soon to be renamed Downtown Memphis Commission) is inviting downtown community members for input on updates to the downtown sign code and design guidelines.

The area in question is the Central Business Improvement District, which includes sub-areas like the downtown core, Uptown, South Main, and the medical district.

Besides a few slight modifications over the years, the downtown sign code has not been fully updated in decades. The CCC is starting the process by developing a proposal for code updates, and the final decision will rest with the Memphis City Council sometime in the first quarter of 2012.

The sign code and design guidelines will take into account the needs of different areas, from the historic preservation of Victorian Village to the unique demands of the medical district. A new sign code will determine the limitations of size, color, and placement as well as the use of digital signs. Germantown, for instance, is an example of a particularly stringent sign code, with strict limitations on location, use of flashing lights and animation, and acceptable logos and graphics.

"The update would merge all the various sign ordinances for downtown into one document," said Andy Kitsinger, senior vice president of planning and development at the CCC. "It would also bring it up to date. When the sign code ordinance was written, it was before digital reader boards. There were a lot of things that were different in those days."

The second aspect of the collaborative process involves updating the design guidelines for downtown development.

The CCC will review form-based coding, which establishes the way the city takes shape as a whole, rather than focusing on zoning restrictions separating residential and commercial districts. Adopting form-based coding would allow for more mixed-use developments downtown.

New design guidelines will shape future decisions of the CCC's design review board and would also apply to all public projects where local and federal funding come into play.

An update could not come at a better time. The residential population of the Central Business Improvement District has increased by 12 percent since 2000, and the district's employment is expected to increase by 7 percent over the next five years.

"It's an exciting time," Kitsinger said. "It's very rare that we are involved in a point in time when we can influence the future shape of our city."

For help leading this process, Memphis is calling on the expertise of Winter & Company, an urban design firm out of Boulder, Colorado. The first community workshop for the downtown sign code will take place on August 18th from 5 to 7 p.m. at a location to be determined.

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