Billboard Co.'s Latest Effort in Logan Square Gets Chilly Response

By Victoria Johnson on December 16, 2013 6:47am 

 Blank billboard frames remain on the former Grace's Furniture building at 2616 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Blank billboard frames remain on the former Grace's Furniture building at 2616 N. Milwaukee Ave.
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DNAinfo/Victoria Johnson

LOGAN SQUARE — Seven months after a Landmarks Commission denied permits for billboards that face the Logan Boulevard Landmark district, the company trying to erect the signs apparently hasn't given up.

Andrew Schneider, president of Logan Square Preservation, said the billboard company, VisualCast Media, has been in informal conferences with the commission's permit reviews committee as well as the preservation group to try to come up with a compromise — part of standard landmarks procedure in such cases.

VisualCast did not return calls seeking comment but Schneider said that in a recent meeting with company officials "they weren't willing to remove the billboards, but offered to take the roof one down in exchange for leaving the others on the wall."

Because the roof billboard has remained in use since before the landmark designation, it is grandfathered and legally allowed to remain.

Schneider said the company's offer was "something that we weren't interested in pursuing."

In addition, Schneider said VisualCast offered to do some light restoration to the facade, add some windows to the wall with the billboards, as well as add cameras to deter vandalism.

The controversy started when Schneider saw billboard frames go up on the former Grace's Furniture building, facing the Illinois Centennial monument and the rest of the square. Along with Logan and Kedzie boulevard, the square was designated a city landmark district in 2005.

"No billboards have been present on the building for the last several years," Schneider said in April. "To permit them now would detrimentally impact our neighborhood, our quality of life and our historic landmark district."

In May, the commission rejected the billboard permits.

Schneider said part of the problem is that the building is not being developed as long as its owners can make money from leasing it out for nothing but advertisements.

"Aside from all these other aesthetic considerations, as long as these billboards stay on the wall it will highlight the blight of this building, which is its vacancy," he said.

Building owner Digna Martinez said Thursday that she is not involved in the building's operations and referred questions to her daughter, Grace Martinez, who did not respond to a voicemail left for her.

Meanwhile, though he had previously been neutral on the matter, Ald. Rey Colon (35th), has also come out in opposition to the billboards.

"As far as I'm concerned, I don't really see any benefit to the community in having the billboards there," he said. "We don't need an advertising building. We need something that's really going to create jobs for the community."

VisualCast owner Mushin Okmen in May lamented his troubles with the rental, apparently unable to get out of his lease.

"I'm really exhausted of all these proceedings we're going through and I'm really losing a lot of money," he told the commission last May. "I wish I had never rented this wall."

According to online documents, the lease signed on Sept. 28, 2011 does not expire until 2026.

"While I sympathize with anyone that's losing money," Colon said this week, "we're just losing value in our area by allowing that building to stay in the condition it's in."

Because a compromise could not be reached, the full Landmarks Commission will again consider the issue and vote on it at its next meeting on Jan. 9.

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