Insurer Aflac is growing its Chattanooga area presence, having moved its offices downtown to be closer to competitor Unum and brought on 73 brokers with plans for 85 more to service the region.
But a Chattanooga panel on Thursday denied a company request to put up an Aflac sign, that includes its signature duck, on the front of its 103 Cherokee Blvd., offices.
According to the city's Form Based Code Committee, a so-called "skyline sign" on the outside of the top level of the building is not permitted because the structure isn't more than four stories high. It also already has a small sign, calling it the Maddox Building, that was put up before the current code was approved.
Brandon Smith, regional coordinator for Columbus, Ga.-based Aflac, said at a meeting of the board that it purchased a sign upon discussions with building owner John Wise.
Aflac's offices are on the second story of the four-level building on Cherokee, where it relocated last year from Mountain Creek Road.
"We took the office under the impression the sign could be hung," Smith said. But when an installer was called, the company found out it wasn't the case.
According to the panel, the sign could go between the first and second levels. But, Smith said, the sign is too big for that location.
"We purchased the sign ... to be hung on the top level at a considerable cost," he said.
The panel has allowed a couple of exceptions in the past where signs were placed on the top level of downtown buildings less than four stories, according to the committee staff. But, in other cases, such requests were denied, staff said.
Panel member Matthew Whitaker said he doesn't understand the four-story rule.
"I don't quite understand the reason for the code," he said.
Another member, Heidi Hefferlin, said Aflac's hardship was that it purchased the sign under the promise of the landlord. She said she's sympathetic to the business spending money and being committed to downtown.
"This is a question for the committee because we've clearly not approved these in the past and it sets a precedent," Hefferlin said.
Panel member William Smith offered a motion to approve a hardship for the company because Aflac's offices are primarily accessed from a rear parking garage.
But the board turned down the motion and urged Aflac to work with the owner to find a solution.
Whitaker said he'd like the city to look closer at the sign issue as it considers amendments to the code.
Smith said he plans to work with Wise related to the sign at the building, which houses about 14 Aflac personnel on a permanent basis.
He said the Aflac brokers and agents work in the 14-county area around Chattanooga, and come to the office periodically.
"Growth has been unreal," Smith said. "[Aflac] is one of the most recognizable brands. The opportunities are big."
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.