Video boards outside U.S. Cellular Center won't cause crashes, council told

Screen will promote events at arena, convention center

A rendering of the new U.S. Cellular Center, showing one of the video screens slated to be installed on the facility. (i
A rendering of the new U.S. Cellular Center, showing one of the video screens slated to be installed on the facility. (image via Frew Development Group)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Two large video boards going up on the outside of the U.S. Cellular Center facing the Interstate 380 S-curve shouldn't distract drivers and cause crashes, the City Council has been told.

Steve Bauer, vice president of construction management for Frew Development Group, told the council on Tuesday evening that the city of Cedar Rapids and the Iowa Department of Transportation have approved the video boards. He added that the company will make recommendations on how the video screens are operated as they work to announce events at the center’s arena and convention center and the hotel attached to them.

However, Frew Development's John Frew, president and CEO, emphasized on Wednesday that the operator of the video boards and the habits of motorists will dictate whether there are accidents, not the inclusion of the video boards on the project.

Frew Development Group, formerly known as Frew Nations Group, is the city’s project manager for the renovation of the hotel and arena and construction of the convention center. It will be called The DoubleTree by Hilton at the U.S. Cellular Center when it opens in June 2013.

City Council member Don Karr noted on Tuesday evening that he had received a number of emails from residents concerned that the video boards on the exterior of the U.S. Cellular Center might result in pileups outside on the Interstate 380 S-curve outside. He added that the speed limit on the accident-prone curve drops to 55 mph and that the city has traffic enforcement cameras there to help slow traffic. He said he didn’t want new video boards to reverse course and result in accidents.

In response, council member Justin Shields said Frew Development Group meets regularly with city staff, and Shields said there has been "ongoing discussion" about the video boards. The city wouldn’t allow anything to be erected that would be a hazard, Shields said.

Frew’s Bauer noted that the 21-foot-by-42-foot video boards will work as on-premise signs that only promote activities at the hotel and U.S. Cellular Center arena and convention center and will not carry advertisements for off-premise businesses or events like billboards do. Not to be ignored, he emphasized, is the fact that revenue from naming rights at the hotel, arena and convention center is tied to the ability of the video boards to promote what the facility has going on.

At the same time, Bauer said that the messages "need to be treated with specific care." He said Frew Development Group would make recommendations to the hotel and center managers about issues like how often messages on the video boards should change. There also will be a video board on the First Avenue side of the hotel and center, he said.

Cathy Cutler, a planner in the DOT’s Cedar Rapids district office, said Wednesday that state transportation officials have met with city officials about the plans for video boards outside the U.S. Cellular Center. The video boards can’t feature off-premise advertising, she noted.

Cutler noted that the DOT has worked with owners of new digital billboards on Interstate 380 south of Highway 30 to dim the brightness of the signs at night so won’t distract drivers.Brent Christian, a right-of-way agent in the DOT’s Advertising Management Office in Ames, on Wednesday noted that the DOT has a standard for how often an image can change — the "flash rate" is eight seconds — on an off-premise billboard, but it has no similar standard for on-premise signs like the video boards that will be erected outside the U.S. Cellular Center.

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