Here’s how many digital billboards are coming to Millcreek. The number might surprise you.

Plan with Reagan Outdoor Advertising is limited to one sign — instead of three — after public outcry.

A digital billboard is coming to Millcreek. But just one.

The City Council signed off late Monday on a deal with Reagan Outdoor Advertising that replaces one traditional billboard on 3300 South with a digital sign that will mark a key entrance to the still-under-construction town center.

This is a much smaller deal than originally proposed. The first plan would have allowed three digital signs in exchange for the removal of six traditional billboards. That faced opposition from the city’s Planning Commission, the arts council and a number of concerned residents.

These opponents were upset by the size of the signs and how close they were to residential areas, particularly one planned for Highland Drive. They worried about light pollution, and they disliked that the city was going back on a digital billboard ban it put in place in early 2020.

In reaction to that consistent public outcry, the City Council sent staffers back to the negotiating table, coming back with a one-to-one sign swap. Reagan gave up its right to build two other signs in the city.

While the council received some praise for securing a smaller deal, its members knew agreeing to even one digital sign wasn’t going to be popular.

“We are very aware that people will not be happy with this decision,” said council member Cheri Jackson. “But yet, looking at all of the considerations, we’re doing what we feel is best for our city.”

Mayor Jeff Silvestrini recused himself from the negotiation and the vote. He previously did legal work for Reagan; his wife still does. The billboard company has also been one of his major political backers.

Normally the mayor is a voting member of the council. Silvestrini’s recusal left the vote up to the four other members. All four voted to change the ordinance and to approve the plan.

A big driver for the plan was one sign in particular — a 35-footer at 1333 E. 3300 South. The sign sits where the city wants to build a grand entrance to the town square. The area will include an ice skating ribbon, an amphitheater and eventually City Hall. Not only does the city want that sign gone, but it also wants Reagan to relinquish its legal right of first refusal on adjacent land.

That land is intended to be included in a swap to build City Hall.

Under the deal, Reagan will tear down the sign at 1333 East and replace it with one the city will own that marks the entrance to Millcreek Common. The city will get to choose 40% of the ads shown, which will change every eight seconds. Reagan will pay for the construction and maintenance of the sign and can sell the remaining 60% of the spots. The arrangement lasts 40 years.

(Courtesy of Millcreek) A rendering shows an earlier proposal being debated in September 2021 to replace traditional billboards with digital ones at entrances to Millcreek Common, the town center under construction.

The ads can’t be political or sexually oriented. There also are limits on tobacco and gun ads. And the city would have to sign off if it involved alcohol. Millcreek businesses will be able to advertise at a discounted rate for at least three years.

The sign, which will be 12 feet by 24 feet, will include technology to limit what people can see when they are not directly in front of the sign.

Kathy Blake was among the residents who urged the council to reject any digital signs. She also called the new plan “a step in the right direction.”

“But I don’t want any digital billboards installed anywhere in the city,” Blake said. “Installing large digital billboards gives Reagan the ability to set the tone in our city center. They decide what displays on the brightest and biggest signage in the entire Common area.”

Council members like Jackson and Dwight Marchant professed their hatred for billboards, too, but said this was a compromise that allows the city center project to move forward and limits the number of digital billboards in the city to the lowest number possible: just this one.