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Nonprofit Wants Hollywood-Style Pittsburgh Sign To Replace Sprint Banner

Matt Nemeth
90.5 WESA
The nonprofit Scenic Pittsburgh says it could fundraise for the installation of a Hollywood-style sign that reads "Pittsburgh" to replace the Sprint banner.

A Pittsburgh nonprofit wants to replace the controversial black and yellow Sprint sign on Mt. Washington with a Hollywood-style letter sign.

Scenic Pittsburgh sent a letter to Louisiana-based Lamar Advertising, which owns the 7,200-square-foot billboard, asking them to donate or sell the property to the organization. Lamar is in a legal battle with the city of Pittsburgh, which claims the company is violating zoning regulations.

One option for the sign’s future could be something akin to Hollywood’s iconic hillside sign, according to Scenic Pittsburgh executive director Mike Dawida.

“It does not identify commercial activities, it doesn’t sell beer, it doesn’t sell chipped ham,” Dawida said. “It’s there to just tell everybody, 'this is a beautiful place and this is where you want to come and see.'”

Dawida said if Lamar sells the sign, it could receive a tax benefit, since Scenic Pittsburgh is a 501c(3) nonprofit organization. He said the money could be raised for the new sign inthe same way it was in California: by selling sponsorship for each letter.

Lamar said in a statement that Sprint will be offered a contract renewal before other advertisers are considered.

“The billboard has been, and continues to be a legal advertising sign for the past 80 years,” the statement said.

City officials have called the sign an eyesoreand demanded its removal. They’ve fined Lamar up to $1,000 a day for violations.

Dawida said he thinks a donation from Lamar would put them back in the good graces of city officials. Plus, he said, a new Pittsburgh sign would only add to the iconic Mt. Washington hillside.

“We all watch all the sporting events that are here and we always take great pride in the fact that they always show a wonderful view of Pittsburgh,” Dawida said. “You’ll always see the Pittsburgh sign now if we get this done.”

Dawida said if the Hollywood-style sign isn’t installed, the space could be absorbed into Emerald View Park. He said Scenic Pittsburgh will likely go through laws of conservatorship, which allow groups, usually nonprofits, to take over sites and preserve or rehabilitate them.

Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community.