El Dorado News

Sunday
July 23, 2017
El Dorado News Times

Signage request raises MAD issues

By Tia Lyons
This article was published July 16, 2017 at 5:00 a.m.

By Tia Lyons

Staff Writer

A proposal for signage in the new Murphy Arts District raised several questions about other issues and requests for additional information from the El Dorado Historic District Commission.

Following a lengthy discussion with commissioners Thursday, Dan Smith, vice president of hospitality/general manager of the Murphy Arts District, said he would take the questions back to MAD and its parent group, El Dorado Festivals and Events, Inc., and return to the commission with answers.

Given the time-sensitive nature of the request — the grand opening of the new arts and entertainment district is set for Sept. 27 on the south of Downtown El Dorado, which is part of the city’s commercial historic — commissioners told Smith they could schedule a special meeting to address the proposal, if necessary.

Smith presented a Certificate of Appropriateness request for options for proposed signage that is included in phase one of construction for the Murphy Arts District.

A Certificate of Appropriateness, or COA, is required for most exterior projects within the commercial historic district.

Smith presented a plan that includes signage for the Griffin Restaurant/performance hall, the amphitheater and the district itself.

The signs for the Griffin building on Locust would be installed in areas denoting the restaurant, the stagehouse roof, the box office/tickets and the entrance into the performance hall.

A sign would point to the amphitheater, which is under construction on the east side of the Griffin building, and another sign would be posted at the entrance into the district at South Washington and Locust.

Smith said sign options had already been approved by the U.S. Department of Interior/National Park Service.

Commissioner J. Parks Hammond asked why the work needed approval from federal government agencies.

“I’ve never heard of the National Park Service or the Department of Interior passing on signage for properties that are on the National Register (of Historic Places) when dealing with individual signage for individual projects,” Hammond said. “I would like to see some documentation on that.”

Elizabeth Eggleston, executive director of the historic district commission, said the federal agencies are likely involved in that aspect of the plans because Festivals and Events applied for federal and state tax credits to help cover the cost of the $80 – $100 million MAD project.

The credits are available for historical preservation projects on approved properties and historical districts, typically those that are listed on the National Register for Historical Places.

“That goes to the state (Arkansas Historical Preservation Program), and the state forwards it to the Park Service,” Eggleston said. “It may be part of the overall package that was approved, instead of a standalone piece.”

She noted that the federal agencies tweaked an earlier piece of the conceptual design for the refurbishment of the Griffin building.

Commissioners also questioned sign logos and style options, including a griffin for the Griffin Restaurant signage.

A griffin is a mythical creature with the body of lion and a head, wings and legs that resemble those of an eagle.

Commissioner John Benson Jr. noted that the Griffin building used to be an automobile dealership/showroom and a gasoline station (it last served as the location for El Dorado Glass and Mirror).

“How did you pass on using an automobile on the signage?” Benson asked.

Hammond added, “Our (design guideline for) signage talks about historical significance, not coming up with a new symbol.”

Smith said the idea behind the design was to pay homage to the Griffin family who once owned the building and auto business.

“We wanted Griffin to be part of the name. It’s no longer an automobile dealership or showroom,” Smith said.

Eggleston also said the griffin “animal is kind of like a family crest or symbol” for the Griffin family.

Smith also pointed out that in some Greek and Roman mythology, griffins were said to lay golden eggs, and he said that symbolism falls in line with the goals of MAD: rebranding El Dorado into a “Festival City” to draw more visitors to town and to create a new, local industry centered on theater production.

Hammond also voiced his displeasure with box-office sign options that bear “Tix,” an abbreviated form of “tickets.”

“‘Tix is not acceptable to the general public. I’m not sure why an abbreviation is a substitution for ‘tickets,’” Hammond said.

Commissioner Linda Rathbun asked if the bottom of the signs that would installed on the corners of the restaurant, box-office and performance hall entrance would meet clearance requirements of eight feet above the sidewalk.

“They would be more than eight feet,” Smith said.

He also told commissioners there are discussions to possibly install a sign on the south end of the roof of the Griffin building. He said the sign would be visible to vehicles passing over the Hillsboro viaduct.

Sticking points arose regarding the proposed roof sign, sign materials, and power-washing, with commissioners noting the issues conflict with the design review guidelines.

Rathbun explained that roof-mounted signs are prohibited, unless the commission believes they are in accordance with design standards for the commercial historic district.

When Smith said acrylic, semi-translucent material is proposed for the backlit signs, several commissioners were quick to note that the material is a plastic and such signs are prohibited within the historic district.

“They’ve had a tendency in the past to be hit with hard objects and end up with a hole in the backlit sign and part of the lighting is knocked out,” Hammond said. “We don’t want an eyesore showing up five years down the road.”

Rathbun said commissioners can make exceptions to the design guidelines, and Commissioner Teresa Golliher said she thinks the signs would be similar to an exterior sign the commission approved months ago as part of a renovation/remodeling project for the First Financial Bank building on North Washington and Oak.

Smith said he would address “impact resistance” with MAD architects.

Hammond said there are alternative materials, including wood and concrete, though he did not share any specific options, upon the advice of Benson.

“If you can show us that the backlit part (of the sign) would be just as durable and not get brittle and not get broken and not repaired …” Hammond began.

“If they’re spending $100 million, I’m sure they’re going to repair a sign,” Benson cut in.

Added Smith, “Just to note: we didn’t say plastic; we said acrylic, semi-translucent.”

Thumbing through the sign plan that accompanied the Certificate of Appropriateness application, Hammond told Smith, “Whoever made this presentation seems to not have an adequate grasp of our guidelines.”

Earlier in the meeting, Eggleston asked if a contract had been let for the making and installation of the signs, and Smith said no.

Smith mentioned plans to power-wash buildings within MAD and to install bollards for Hill’s Recreation Parlor.

Commissioners said power-washing is prohibited within the historic district, adding that MAD would have find a less abrasive cleaning method.

They also discussed if bollards were an item that would have to come before the commission for approval.

Smith said the bollards would be installed to help prevent vehicles from striking the side of the Hill’s building — which has previously happened.

He said MAD is also working to form a partnership with Hill’s to give the property “a facelift” and enter into a contract for Hill’s to maintain the property thereafter.

Rathbun asked if there was any action the historic district commission could immediately take on any components of the Certificate of Appropriateness request presented by Smith.

Golliher said commissioners should wait until they receive answers to their questions and additional information.

“You’ve given me plenty of homework to take back with me,” Smith said.

Eggleston noted that Hammond was the Certificate of Appropriateness chairman for the regular July historic district commission meeting.

“The professional cleaning needs to be done in accordance with our guidelines. If it’s not done in accordance with out guidelines, I will not give it a pass,” Hammond said.

Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or by email at tlyons@ eldoradonews.com.

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