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    Artistic Mural Vs. Outdoor Ad: A New Debate in Detroit

    Murals are always part of a city’s landscape and Detroit is no exception. But sometimes the difference between an artist-made mural and an outdoor advertisement can be hard to distinguish. The whale mural on the side of Broderick Tower has city officials and residents wondering which is more valuable after a recent decision made by the Detroit Board of Zoning Appeals.

    What Has Happened So Far

    Last July, we wrote a blog article about the city when they were reconsidering decades-old policies regarding outdoor advertisements. At that time, it was not clear what the outcome of their decision would be.

    Created in the 1990s, the original laws were meant to restrict ads for casinos in Downtown Detroit. However, once that aspect of the law was deemed successful, the law was seldom enforced. Due to the city’s lack of action in fining offending building owners, ads gradually starting appearing again downtown. Ads for companies like Apple and Miller Lite became regular sights for people visiting downtown.

    However, at the beginning of 2018, the city started enforcing their laws again, requiring downtown buildings to remove outdoor signage. A compromise was struck that gave the owners of existing ads time to remove their signage before fines would be reissued.

    Outdoor ad

    An outdoor ad for Apple circa 2014 // Image by Ken Lund via Flickr

    The Story of the Whale

    A year later, it appears that the city is allowing outdoor ads again, but they now require advertising companies and building owners to file requests to display them first.

    A decision was reversed this week regarding the aforementioned mural of two whales. The mural on the side of Broderick Tower was first installed in 1997 to draw the city’s attention to the plight of humpback whales.

    According to the Free Press, the mural was previously covered up with various ads between 2006 and 2012. Detroit’s Board of Zoning Appeals initially approved a proposal for another ad that would cover up the whale mural this year. However, on December 11, the board reversed their decision, saying they needed more time to review last-minute paperwork before they could approve the request.

    The Debate Over Outdoor Ads in Detroit

    The owner of Broderick Towers considered the reversal to be a setback, arguing that the revenue from outdoor advertising contributes to renovation and upkeep costs for their building.

    Andrus McDonald, president of real estate for Brooklyn Outdoor, an outdoor ad company, said in 2017 that the decision to take down banners was unfair, specifying:

    “These building owners are the ones who really held down Detroit back when no businesses wanted to be down here, and Apple didn’t want to buy the side of a wall.”

    On the other side of this debate, the city argues that allowing a multitude of ads on the sides of buildings would undermine the beauty of Downtown Detroit. Visitors to Comerica Park can easily see the whale mural. This makes the space a prime target for advertisers and implicitly suggests that other easily seen buildings could be prime location for more ads, so allowing the whale mural to be covered up could cause a domino effect.

    Why This Is Important

    While the city has yet to make their final decision on the whale mural, the arguments made on both sides of this discussion make good points. On the one hand, building owners could benefit from the ads by putting the revenue from them toward renovations and upkeep. On the other hand, the original laws were put in place to avoid the downtown area becoming saturated with ads. The outcome of the board’s final decision will be interesting either way and will impact the way our city looks.

    Featured image by Lauren via Flickr
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