Questions and Answers

Stop here to get answers to questions we've heard people ask.

Q: You call them digital billboards, but the city calls them "District Signs." Why?

A: In late 2021 the city changed the city's sign ordinance to get around the ban on digital billboards and allow the construction of a Reagan Outdoor Advertising digital billboard at Millcreek City Center that targets traffic on 33rd South. In the process, the city removed the definitions for "off premises signs" and "on premises signs" from Millcreek's sign ordinance. The city then inserted the novel term "district sign" and crafted a specialized definition for the newly created term. We don't know all the reasons why the city uses term "district signs" but one reason could be to side-step regulations spelled out in Utah law that give the city less control over billboards. Also, it allows them to side-step the negative association with the term "billboard." With a billboard company controlling what ads display for 60% of the "turns" compared to 40% of the "turns" used by the city to advertise city-sponsored events, it is clear that a digital "district sign" is a really just a digital billboard.

Q: I thought the “one digital billboard deal” struck with Reagan in 2021 was the last we would hear about this, especially when so many residents opposed the deal and opposed the sign ordinance changes and city center master plan changes. Why is it coming up again?

A: In 2021 the city was under extreme financial and scheduling pressure due to one conventional billboard that was in the way and preventing necessary real estate transactions for the new city hall and surrounding developments at the city center, and the city needed to start payments on $59 million in debt financing for the city center. The city admitted in 2021 that pressure from residents caused it to modify its plan for three digital billboards and strike a deal to swap out the one billboard that was actually a problem, abandoning the plan (or so we thought) to install two other digital billboards. The city is not in the same panic mode today that it was in 2021. City center development continues on and no billboards stand in the way of any planned or current construction. This time, the city simply wants the digital billboards installed because, well.....they just want them. The 2021 rationale of "we have no choice, we have to do this" is not relevant today. (Salt Lake Tribune, Nov 9, 2021)

Q: So why is the city now promoting two more digital billboards in our community?

A: The city is now saying that it likes digital billboards because they are claiming - without providing any evidence - that they are superior at advertising city functions and events, and that they are a tolerable blight on the city’s skyline. The city claims that it has received few complaints about the digital billboard they installed on 3300 South in 2021, drawing the false conclusion that an absence of complaints means that Millcreek residents in fact like digital billboards. They also claim that digital billboards pose no more of a traffic/pedestrian safety hazard than static digital billboards. Finally, they claim a deal with Reagan Outdoor Advertising will result in the removal of total billboard square footage in Millcreek because it will be conditional on them removing 3 square feet of static billboard for every one square feet of a new digital billboards. However, in practical terms, this equates to an exchange rate of the removal of less than 2 1/2 full-sized static billboards for the installation one Reagan/Millcreek Common-endorsed digital billboard.

Q: Prior to November 2021, what did the city ordinances and the city center master plan say about digital billboards?

A: Digital billboards were prohibited throughout the city, with one exception: they were (and still are) allowed on the I-15 freeway but are limited to one digital screen change every 24 hours. Electronic message centers were (and still are) are allowed on signs other than billboards, but the electronic display cannot exceed 50% of the sign face. The City Center Master Plan, adopted in 2018, entirely prohibited digital signage of all types - including digital billboards - in the city center.

Q: What are essential facts of the 2021 Memorandum of Understanding the city signed with Reagan?

A: The Memorandum of Understanding was an informal, non-binding agreement that outlined the terms of the deal both sides expected to sign if the city made the necessary changes to the sign ordinance and city center master plan that would make the digital billboard installation legal. The city would own the digital billboard, but Reagan Outdoor Advertising would pay to install it and maintain it, and lease it from the city for $1.00 per year for 40 years. In exchange, Reagan Outdoor Advertising controlled 60% of the ad time on the billboard and could sell that ad space to whomever they want (except for certain types of ads that were prohibited). They would also voluntarily remove their billboard that was blocking city center construction, relinquish certain real estate rights for property the city had to buy and give up approximately 900 square feet of "banked" billboard sign face, a substantial billboard industry benefit allowed under Millcreek's sign code. This benefit is triggered when a billboard owner removes a billboard, whether due to the loss of a land lease or due to the business decision to find a more highly visible, more profitable site, and have yet to find another suitable location. Billboard owners are granted a 3 year period in which they can find a willing property owner to enter into a billboard land lease.

Q: What are the economics of digital billboards versus conventional billboards?

A: Digital billboards are always located in high traffic, desirable areas, such as on the periphery of the Millcreek City Center, and generate a lot more advertising revenue than does a single, high traffic conventional billboard due to its advertising advantages – seven separate advertisements every 8 seconds, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, bathed in intense, quickly changing light and multi-colored graphics, expertly designed to draw in the attention of drivers from a far distance. The ad cost per digital advertisement is purportedly less than that of a conventional billboard, but with seven separate broadcasted advertisements every minute, the revenue advantage of a digital billboard can be, based upon digital billboard manufacturers’ claims, 8 to 12 times more than that of a conventional billboard.

Q: What about the impact of digital billboards on pedestrian and traffic safety?

A: Safety studies funded and conducted by non-industry entities generally find that digital billboards are in fact a safety hazard. Billboard industry funded “safety” studies generally conclude that digital billboards do not create a safety hazard or are inconclusive. The purpose of a billboard is to get your attention; drivers looking at a billboard won't be looking out for other cars, motorcycles, bicycles, or pedestrians in the area. Click HERE for more safety-related information.

Q: Mayor Silvestrini has been Millcreek's mayor since 2016. Yet, he and his wife have continued to be "Vice Presidents" and "Directors" of Cohne and Kinghorn, PC, a law firm that has a long established attorney/client relationship with Reagan Outdoor Advertising and currently represents Reagan. Despite public statements clearly indicating otherwise, the Mayor has never stopped his affiliation with Cohne Kinghorn. Because the mayor's law firm represents Reagan he has an ethical and professional obligations to Reagan regardless if they are at odds with interests of Millcreek and its residents. The mayor's wife is also currently a registered lobbyist for Reagan. Is that why the city is attempting to make a deal with them again?

A: You are going to need to be the judge on that one. Reagan Outdoor Advertising owns almost all of the existing billboards in Millcreek and therefore any changes to city code dealing with billboards and other signage could arguably disproportionately impact Reagan Outdoor Advertising one way or another. Thus far the city has only been considering Reagan Outdoor Advertising as a partner in the billboard exchange deal that is part of the proposed sign ordinance changes. When the city proposed changes to the sign ordinance in June 2021 to allow digital billboards within the city center and announced its intent to seek a billboard swap deal with Reagan Outdoor Advertising the mayor did not immediately recuse himself. However, after public outcry, he later agreed to recuse himself from city council meetings where the changes were being discussed, and from the city council vote on whether to approve the ordinance and city center master plan changes. It's not clear whether this relationship could have influenced things in another way. It is not clear to what extent the mayor was involved in working to fast track approval of the current proposed ordinance change or otherwise influenced the process and will (even unintentionally) influence the process from here on out. Click HERE to read the mayor's most recent public disclosure about the scope and extent of his relationship with Reagan Outdoor Advertising. Some additional articles and links related the Mayor's conflicts of interests regarding the city's billboard code, policies and legal agreements can be viewed HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE , HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE,and HERE.