Large Digital Displays Coming to the Outside of Nat's Stadium

Action By Council and Zoning Commission Required

A 25-foot by 28-foot LED display proposed to go on Nationals Park facing First Street SW. (Photo: Nationals/Art Disaply Company)

The Washington Nationals announced plans to install 10 digital LED billboards on the walls of the ballpark at Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6D's Oct. 17 meeting. The proposed signs range in sizes from 25 feet high and 17 feet wide to 38 feet high and 25 feet wide.

Bill Jarvis, a lawyer and lobbyist for the team, informed the commission that the intent of the Nat's proposal is to draw attention from pedestrians. The signs would encourage ballpark patrons to spend time and money in and around the waterfront, the team believes.

The team's project requires some heavy regulatory and legislative lifting.

Large Signs to Adorn the Sides of the Ballpark

On Oct. 18, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D) introduced legislation to create a regulatory framework to allow the billboards to be permitted by the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the DC Department of Regulatory and Consumer Affairs (DCRA). The law was modeled on the one that governs the displays surrounding the Verizon Center. It does not permit audio.

“If the bill were to move forward, it would have a hearing and we would certainly get feedback,” Allen said.

Allen's law will not be enough, though. The stadium resides within the Capitol Gateway Overlay District (CGOD) CGOD is designed to “to establish South Capitol Street as a monumental boulevard.” It sets very strict restrictions on the area's signage and streetscape. Developments within its boundaries are required to minimize light spill and associated noise.

Within CGOD, “Signage on the exterior of the building or internal to the ballpark structure but visible from the outside, including the scoreboard, will not have such intensity or brilliance as to cause glare or impair the vision of any driver, or otherwise interfere with the driver’s operation of a motor vehicle; adversely impact an owner’s enjoyment of residential property located proximate to the ballpark; or impact the character and integrity of the ballpark site,” state the zoning regulations.

So, the Nats will also need the secure permission the Zoning Commission's approval for the proposed digital LED displays.

Proposal Ignites a Firestorm

“I can’t imagine that the members of the Zoning Commission would possibly support cramping up the view of the Capitol of the free world so that you can advertise beer,” ANC 6D Chair Andy Litsky told Jarvis.

Commissioners were frustrated that the Nats had not spoken with existing residents or waterfront developers about their plans. Nor, the commissioners quickly discovered, had the Nats conducted any light or noise pollution studies. Lastly, they had not studied the potential impact on drivers on South Capitol Street, who might be distracted by the video displays.

ANC 6D(04) Commissioner Andy Litsky questioned the motives behind the proposal. Did the Nats plan to advertise Coca Cola and Budweiser on the signs, he asked?

When Litsky asked Jarvis if he had reviewed the zoning regulations governing signage within CGOD, Jarvis told the commission that he read the order, but interpreted it in a different manner.

If the park wants to maintain its growing attractiveness, it needs to draw attention, Jarvis argued. He pointed out the signage and LED lights outside the Verizon Center as a point of comparison.

Litsky termed the proposal an “outrage."

The Southwest community cannot and should not be compared to the centrally located space that the Verizon Center occupies, argued Commissioner Marjorie Lightman 6D(01). Downtown has better access to transit and more entertainment options.

“This ballpark area is at the edge of the city,” Lightman said. “It’s not at the center of an entertainment zone.” She pointed out that the stadium sits at the confluence of a major arterial and Anacostia bridge.

ANC 6D voted unanimously to send a letter of opposition to Mayor Muriel Bowser, DCRA, DDOT, the Zoning Commission and the council.

“You sir, should be embarrassed for writing the legislation,” Litsky said addressing the Nats. “If you want to sell beer, sell it inside.”

The proposed locations for each LED digital display around National Park in Southwest. (Photo: Nationals/Art Disaply Company)
A 28-foot by 25-foot LED display proposed to go on Nationals Park facing South Capitol Street. (Photo: Nationals/Art Disaply Company)
A 35-foot by 34-foot LED display proposed to go on Nationals Park facing Potomac Street SW. (Photo: Nationals/Art Disaply Company)