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Signed, Sealed, Delivered

UPMC back on top — right where it belongs

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You know the problem with Downtown Pittsburgh? There aren’t enough signs. Because you know what absolutely makes a skyline? Giant advertisement signs adorning skyscrapers.

In the past, the people who designed cities didn’t realize how screwed-up they were when they just erected giant buildings with cool designs and interesting façades.

But now that we’re more enlightened, we can look at Fifth Avenue Place and say, “Damn, that Highmark sign really puts the icing on the cake doesn’t it? Gorgeous!”

That’s why I’m psyched that we have a new giant sign going up in dahntahn Pittsburgh. Three giant signs, actually, each facing a different direction but all saying the same thing: “UPMC.” They’re putting the signs on the old U.S. Steel Tower, five floors of which UPMC plans to occupy soon.

I’m so glad the UPMC signs are going up, because I have trouble keeping track of Pittsburgh’s major institutions. “Which one is the gigantic, humongous, big-ass, damn-near-ready-to-swallow-the-earth-whole health-care organization?” I ask myself. “Is it … wait, no, I can’t get it.”

But no more brain-twisting-trivia mental lapses for this puppy. No sir. There’ll be a giant visual reminder for me every damn day of the week.
Now, you want to make sure these signs are aesthetically pleasing.

You want to make sure they correspond well to the architecture and, of course, to the other signs. God forbid you’d have two signs that clashed. I mean, that’d be like wearing white after Labor Day, or wearing a tuxedo with brown shoes, as George Goebel used to say. (Never mind, he’s a way-old guy, or a way-dead guy, I’m not sure which.)

We have a City Planning Commission which had to pass judgment on whether UPMC could erect the giant signs. Here’s a shocker for you. Would you believe that in its initial vote, there was a 3-3 tie? That meant no dice, no sale, read-my-lips-no-new-signage?

What were those boneheaded bureaucrats thinking? Why would they want to destroy the visually pleasing landscape we’re putting together, one giant sign at a time? Why not just tear down those castle-like points on the top of PPG Place?

Two weeks later, the commission reversed its vote and approved the sign 6-1. You don’t think UPMC used its massive influence as the area’s largest employer to scare some of those bureaucrats into changing their votes, do you? Not me. I think these bureaucrats have integrity. I think they just came to their senses. Especially after Pat Ford, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s director of economic and community development, told them they were on shaky legal ground if they didn’t let UPMC put up its signs.

Damn straight. I mean, if a major corporation doesn’t have the legal right to put up giant billboards wherever it pleases, what is this country coming to?

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says that each sign is about 1,900 square feet, half the size allowed under the city’s zoning laws. The letters are 20 feet high, 4 feet shorter than the ones on One Mellon Center. Personally, I wish UPMC’s signs were twice the size. Giant advertisements are a sign of economic health and vitality. And they really spruce up some drab design by some stuck-up architect who thought his design would stand alone sans signage. Arrogant artsy bastard.

Now get this: Commission member Barbara Ernsberger told the P-G that she surveyed people at a birthday party about the sign, and that her friends “all thought the U.S. Steel building represented U.S. Steel and the history of Pittsburgh.” They also told her “everybody knows who UPMC is and it doesn’t really require a sign to identify itself.”

Au contraire, Madame Stick-In-The-Mud.  There are new people moving here all the time. OK, there aren’t … but what if they suddenly start to, and they got confused about which one is the all-encompassing gigantor of local health care? What then?

Fortunately, sensible planning commissioners like Barbara Mistick prevailed. “I do think it continues to add to our skyline,” said she. Amen, Sister Mistick, amen.

See, in 2007, shameless commercial clutter is where it’s at. It’s like the new Warhol, only tackier. Dig it.

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