Millcreek plan could mean fewer billboards around town. But there’s a catch.

The City Council approved an ordinance change giving them the power to negotiate with billboard companies to take down billboards in exchange for building a digital sign.

It won’t be as bright as the signs that light up Times Square, but downtown Millcreek could get another digital billboard under a new ordinance passed by the Millcreek City Council on Monday night.

The ordinance change allows the city to negotiate with the billboard industry to take down signs in exchange for building digital billboards in the town’s center on city-owned land. Which billboards could be taken down and when that might happen is still an open question.

Residents mostly spoke in opposition to the proposal on Monday evening. Some were concerned that digital billboards would be more distracting for drivers. Others argued they would be more of a visual blight than the static billboards around town.

A few weeks earlier, Millcreek’s planning commission voted against the proposal. “I don’t think that the trade-off is worth it at this point,” planning commissioner Dwayne Vance said. “If I’m going to make a change to the status quo, I want to be persuaded that I’m moving in a better direction.”

But members of the City Council seemed to think a potential tradeoff could be worth it.

“If we put up any digital signage, and we get other billboards taken down, the city center is taking one for the team,” said councilmember Silvia Catten, “because we’re putting up these digital signs but we’re making where the majority of the people live look better.”

Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini recused himself from the vote and discussion because his wife represents Reagan Outdoor Advertising “on a contract basis.” Silvestrini also previously did legal work for the company, The Tribune reported in 2021.

If the situation sounds familiar, that’s because the council considered adding three digital billboards in 2021. In particular, the city wanted to broker a deal to take down a 35-foot sign at 1333 E. 3300 South, where it hoped to build a new downtown.

A few years later, the 35-foot billboard is gone and a new skate loop, city hall, and outdoor climbing wall now form a vibrant city center that draws crowds for ice skating and wiener dog races.

(Photo courtesy of Millcreek Common Instagram) The tallest outdoor climbing wall in Utah opened on Saturday morning at Millcreek City Hall.

But the council scaled down the plan and built just one digital billboard after facing opposition from the city’s Planning Commission, the arts council and residents, The Tribune reported at the time.

With the new plan, the council wants to try and take down more billboards without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. An exchange could allow them to do that. If a billboard company agreed, they would control the digital billboard — with some city input and standards — for 40 years. After four decades, the city could then choose to take that billboard down.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Millcreek took the first step to allow negotiations with the outdoor advertising industry to remove billboards in exchange for another digital sign in the town center. Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021.

Millcreek was saddled with a disproportionate number of billboards before it was incorporated, explained Kate Kopischke, director of Scenic Utah, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to reducing “visual pollution.”

“If you’re really going to do these deals, then make it meaningful,” Kopischke said. “Is it really going to matter if you take down two signs on Highland Drive but you get stuck with two digitals for 40 years?”

The ordinance change won’t result in any immediate new signage — first billboard companies will have to negotiate with the city and strike a deal that appeals to both parties.