Do you know what's more out of place than the new digital billboard — nicknamed "enormotron" by one downtown business executive — on the corner of Chattanooga's Market and Fifth streets?
The complaints about it.
To hear some people, you'd think the sign is more offensive than if the Dome Building were demolished, replaced by a seven-story shimmering neon leg lamp (though I suspect I know a few people who'd consider that a glorious sight).
"Tacky. It represents everything that's wrong with this city," one exasperated friend told me over lunch. "Really?" I thought as I washed down a mouthful of potato chips with a Diet Coke, wondering about their take on gang violence and a slew of failing public schools.
I don't pass by the sign daily — I drive a magnificently unsullied scenic route, known as Brainerd Road, to work every morning — so I had to take a special field trip last Sunday with my wife to view the much-discussed billboard.
And sure enough, it's an eye-catcher. I'll even concede the 600-square-foot sign isn't the prettiest thing I've ever laid eyes on.
But what are we worried about, people? That it's taking away from the beauty of the Family Dollar discount shop below?
I'm being serious.
Ok, bear with me here. I want you to close your eyes for a moment and imagine you're standing on Market Street, gazing at the billboard. Now, with your mind's eye, look all around it.
Take your time.
What do you see?
Here are the main features of what I saw: not one, but two single-level blacktop parking lots, a Family Dollar store with a garbage-strewn CARTA stop out front, and the Chattanooga Ducks Boats.
Nothing against the Ducks Boats, but with that image, remind me what pristine vista this renovated sign is supposedly compromising.
But, "it's going to look like the Strip in Vegas," one Chattanoogan remarked to the Times Free Press last week.
Um, that's a bit of a stretch considering no new billboards are allowed downtown thanks to the area's designation as a scenic zone. And even if every single sign in existence was converted like this first one, the overall lack of downtown billboard space would prevent the city from becoming anything Vegas-y.
Fairway Outdoor Advertising was able to install the 25-foot-tall, 24-foot-wide digital billboard because, according to area general manager Scott LaFoy, it counts as an upgrade to an old double-decker sign and was thus grandfathered in by Chattanooga's 1980s-era sign ordinance.
For the life of me, I couldn't tell you a single thing ever advertised on the old billboards at the corner of Market and Fifth. Which, if that's a commonality, is likely a reason Fairway invested in the renovation. This new sign takes up the same amount of square footage as the old one, only it's brighter. Hence my statement about it being an "eye-catcher."
From a marketing point of view, the sign is already a success.
"Our advertisers love it," said LaFoy. Why wouldn't they? After all, many people are noticing the ad space for the first time in years.
While some don't like it — "Anytime something different is done, somebody's going to complain about it," said LaFoy — even those complaints are driving more advertising value to the sign just three weeks after being installed.
Case in point, four eyeballs (my wife's and mine) consciously stared at the billboard last Sunday for the first time in, well, maybe ever. And we wouldn't have ventured down for a gander had a few folks not bemoaned its supposed trespass on Chattanooga's aesthetic virtues.
Beloved or not, Fairway's new sign is a hit.
Contact David Allen Martin at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @DMart423.