LOGAN SQUARE — The fate of two massive billboard frames that overlook the center of Logan Square soon could be settled after years of controversy.
The billboards, which stretch the length of the former Grace's Furniture building, have been blank for years as local preservationists fought to keep advertisements from compromising the historic district. But the fight soon may end as the city Landmarks Commission prepares to hear the case at its meeting in February.
"It's perhaps the most storied vista in the neighborhood. It's the most beautiful," said Andrew Schneider, president of Logan Square Preservation, who has been fighting the billboards since 2013. "The signs would have a serious detrimental impact on that."
The owner of the billboards, Visualcast, sued the city over the 2013 decision to block signage on the building at 2618 N. Milwaukee Ave. Last month, the judge in the case said she wanted to wait to rule until the city Landmarks Commission made its decision, according to Schneider.
This was the second lawsuit filed by VisualCast over the billboards.
The company sued Logan Square Preservation, Schneider and a number of other individuals in February 2014 over their opposition to the billboards. Schneider had started a petition to stop the billboard company from moving forward and rallied the community against the project. Logan Square Preservation and the other defendants received free legal counsel and that case was dismissed.
The current legal fight has stalled the development of a possible hotel on the site, according to multiple sources. A developer behind the possible project has been holding back due to the pending legal matter.
If the billboard company wins, any sort of development of the building would not include windows along much of the facade that faces the square, according to sources with knowledge of the proposals.
"Those billboards make it difficult to do a redevelopment of that building," Schneider said. "We think the billboard[s] are the wrong thing for the square and the wrong thing for that building."
Multiple requests for comment by VisualCast were not returned for this story.
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), whose ward includes the billboards, said he stands with preservationists, as did Ald. Rey Colon before him.
"I feel strongly that the city should continue to protect the square from intrusive advertisements," Ramirez-Rosa said. "The issue here is whether or not [the Landmarks Commission] has the ability to block the billboards."
Logan Square's boulevards and the square itself were designated a city landmark district in 2005, which is why the building owner and billboard company had to go through the Landmarks Commission to get the OK to hang the signage and were denied in 2013. The giant billboards directly face the Illinois Centennial Monument and the rest of the square, which is slated for a major overhaul as part of the Bicentennial Improvement Project.
"It would have a serious negative impact on that project if they were to be installed," Schneider said.
The notorious "Aloha!" billboard on top of the building is allowed to remain because it was grandfathered in before the boulevards were designated a landmark.
Ramirez-Rosa said city attorneys believe they have a strong case against the billboards and that he is also optimistic they will be blocked.
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