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Published: Friday, 9/22/2006

New span over Maumee becomes sign by design

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The new electronic billboards have been inspired by the Veterans' Glass City Skyway that's still under construction. The new electronic billboards have been inspired by the Veterans' Glass City Skyway that's still under construction.
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Images of the Veterans' Glass City Skyway have been greeting Toledo visitors on signs even before the towering new I-280 bridge's construction began four years ago.

Now another interpretation of the cable-stayed structure stands before motorists entering downtown at the critical west gateway where the Anthony Wayne Trail, the northbound exit ramp of I-75, Erie Street, and Lafayette street merge. This one is in the form of a billboard tower.

"It was a design that I came up with that I thought would be interesting," Greg Churilla, the general manager at Lamar Advertising's local office, said of the 50-foot tower structure his firm has erected at Erie and Lafayette streets. "I was inspired by the new bridge."

Along with supporting two electronic billboards - one already in place facing where the Trail and I-75 exit ramp empty onto Erie Street and another to be erected facing Lafayette - the tower has cables angling down in a fashion resembling the cable stays being put on the I-280 skyway.

The similarity, however, ends there. The tower is a chocolate brown instead of the bridge pylon's gray, and is cylindrical instead of being roughly rectangular.

The tip of the billboard tower is conical, and looks more like a rocket ready for launch.

While Toledo has forbidden new billboards downtown for years, this structure and another near Washington and 11th streets were approved by the city's Board of Zoning Appeals because they replace older Lamar signs, said Tom Kroma, Toledo's director of neighborhoods.

"These constitute modifications of an existing sign," he said.

Except that there are now two signs. Mr. Churilla said the amount of billboard space will be less than what existed there previously.

The new signs at Erie and Lafayette replace a larger array of billboards that included one with a rotating face capable of displaying three different messages.

While the rotating face was prone to breakdowns, Mr. Churilla said the main advantage of the new electronic signs is not lower maintenance cost, but that the messages can be updated frequently if customers so desire. The Blade is among the businesses that will be advertising on the new signs, he said.

Lamar obtained its permits on July 10 and began construction last month. Mr. Churilla said delays in steel delivery to the site slowed the erection of the new signs.

Lamar now has eight electronic billboards in Toledo that resemble giant plasma TVs sitting atop similar brown towers. They are easily distinguishable by their bright lighting and frequent changes to display ads from multiple advertisers.

The bridge-inspired tower at the western gateway to downtown Toledo will be unique to the Erie-Lafayette location, Mr. Churilla said.

"It's an entry point to the city, so it's an appropriate spot for a structure that's out of the norm," he said.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner - who has called the gateway entrances to downtown critical to the first impression visitors have of Toledo and has spent thousands of dollars on flowers and other landscaping to improve them - did not respond directly for comment.

"The mayor likes the signs," spokesman Emily Wahrman said. "They add more color and excitement to the downtown. He is looking forward to the landscaping that will be done, which will enhance these locations even further."

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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