By William J. Dagendesh
A request to install a digital messaging sign in at the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce was put on hold at the Dec. 13 City Council work session.
In October 2022, a windstorm destroyed the sign in front of the building at 354 Manitou Ave. The chamber has photos that show the sign toppled from its foundation, and electrical wiring and light bulbs yanked from their outlets.
In a memorandum to City Council, Planning Director Hannah Van Nimwegen-McGuire said the chamber is seeking an “official sign” designation that would allow a digital messaging component.
A grant was tailored to assist in the region’s economic recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic, Van Nimwegen-McGuire said.
“In their application for this grant, the Chamber of Commerce stated, ‘Our capacity for business and event promotion, as well as important messages through the marquee is limited to two messages, four lines of 12 characters, and must be manually changed. With an official sign that displays digital messages, our capacity would increase dramatically,’” Van Nimwegen-McGuire reported.
“‘With more people turning to online resources for planning and the increase in return visitors to the Pikes Peak region, this new digital sign would allow us to get those eyes on new and updated information for businesses, events, and public health and safety messaging. Manitou Springs Planning Department would offer support to a request for this official sign designation.’”
During the work session, Chamber Board President Farley McDonough and Executive Director Leslie Lewis discussed the benefits of digital signage. In a Nov. 9 letter, Lewis wrote that a digital sign would allow several messages to be presented to the community and visitors within a 16-hour period.
The chamber hopes to have message changeovers no more than every eight seconds and having messages change instantaneously without blinking, flashing or scrolling.
“Over a 16-hour period, we could do several announcements. We think it’s more effective for a sign in front of the chamber,” Lewis said.
“A digital sign would increase communication capacity and accommodate messaging for residents, businesses and visitors at the same time. Safety messaging would always be the top priority. In addition to chamber staff, the Manitou Springs public information officer, Fire Department and Police Department could have access to change the sign in an emergency from remote locations.”
In 2021, El Paso County awarded a $50,000 grant to the Chamber of Commerce to update the reader board sign then in front of the building. However, when staffers encountered some obstacles with the code, the chamber was inspired to move quickly in getting the sign replaced and information out to the community.
“The grant money has been extended for one year. But, if the digital sign is not accepted, we have to return the money, so we are under a bit of a timeline as far as the grant money goes. The bigger concern is there is nothing in front of the chamber telling the community the things going on in town, which is a great concern to us,” McDonough said.
Chamber staff spoke to three companies and received three designs, each incorporating the chamber logo elements. The board agreed on a sign that is aesthetically pleasing, shorter than the destroyed board and that blends in with its surroundings.
The board had the proposed designs drafted. However, in June, city staff overturned the department’s previous stance on supporting the proposed sign, citing the express language and intent of the Manitou Springs Sign Code in prohibiting digital signage.
According to Van Nimwegen-McGuire, a letter was drafted to El Paso County offering support in extending the grant award to allow the Chamber of Commerce additional time to re-design without the digital component. An extension was granted. If council disapproves a digital sign, a new reader board-type sign similar to the design presented would cost the city approximately $26,000.
Lewis said the sign would adhere to International Dark-Sky Association guidelines. The IDA is an authority on light pollution and is the leading organization combating it worldwide.
This means the sign can’t use flashing graphics or flashing messages, and can’t be used to promote private enterprises, businesses or events being held by a single private enterprise where the event would result in sales for one particular business, unless the city is a sponsor or assisting in the event.
The city retains the right to require a change in what’s displayed in the digital messaging. Also, the city can utilize the sign to communicate messages related to public safety, public health, water restrictions, fire restrictions, road closures and emergencies.
Councilor Judith Chandler voiced concerns over the digital sign and quoted IDA guidelines.
“Electronic billboards can be up to 10 times brighter at night than traditionally lit billboards, and can be harmful to the nighttime environment,” she said.
“LED (light-emitting diode) lighting from EMCs (electromagnetic compatibility) can’t be shielded, so the light emitted is flooded into the night sky, which wastes energy and contributes to light pollution.”
Councilor Julie Wolfe said she had received feedback opposing the sign.
“I got some phone calls from people who said they don’t like it at all,” Wolfe said.
Lewis emphasized that the request was slated as a 2023 goal, but that the windstorm made it a more pressing issue.
“We have had several residents ask when the sign would be replaced as they look at it for information,” Lewis said.
No vote was made until further research is conducted and presented to council for approval/disapproval. The next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 20.