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The Cola Wars via Birmingham's billboards

12.7.2012 by André Natta · → 2 Comments

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Two North Twentieth through the walls at Regions Field.Yes, this is a photo of construction at Regions Field along the first base wall, taken early Friday morning. They’re doing an incredible job considering they’ve got approximately 120 days until Opening Day.

It’s not so much the construction efforts I was trying to capture but the potential view for those in attendance. It’s something to think about as you take your seats in April.

I’ll explain…

I probably wouldn’t have paid attention to it if I hadn’t been reminded about a story filed by Joseph Bryant for The Birmingham News this past June. That’d be when he wrote about the partnership between the City of Birmingham and Birmingham Coca-Cola Bottling Co. – the one that provides the largest privately-held Coca-Cola bottling company in the country exclusive serving rights at the Crossplex and Legion Field.

Why is this important?

Well, consider the fact that Regions Field will be a city-controlled facility. This would lead many to logically conclude that Coca-Cola will get exclusive serving rights inside the new facility. It also means that you’ll more than likely see signage reflecting this throughout.

A photo shared on Facebook via the Barons’ fan page on Tuesday starts to illustrate a couple of things. You can make out the iconic sign atop Two North Twentieth at the far right edge of said photo. This would be the same sign that’s been before the city’s Design Review Committee on three separate occasions in the last two months (an account of the most recent appearance is available over on Magic City Post). Here’s one of the most recent proposals:

The company responsible for managing the property, Harbert Realty Services, would like to lease it as a large static billboard space to Buffalo Rock for an extended period of time while they raise the funds needed to replace it with a modern LED display. The proposed sign wouldn’t reference Buffalo Rock however; it would contain the iconic Pepsi logo. You’d be able to see it from Malfunction Junction, Red Mountain Expressway, and potentially from inside Regions Field if you’re sitting along the first base line.

Let’s take a moment to think about the number of Coca-Cola billboards currently located in downtown Birmingham. There are four of them – two located along I-20; one located along I-65 (visible as you’re traveling northbound); another located along Red Mountain Expressway as you pass the 2nd Ave. N. exit ramp.

Now how many are associated with Buffalo Rock products? One – located along Red Mountain Expressway before you pass under Highland Avenue on Southside heading northbound. Incidentally, if you didn’t know that Dr. Pepper is distributed by Buffalo Rock, you do now, as it’s the brand featured on this sign.

I won’t even get into the huge Coca-Cola sign most travelers see as they take-off and land at the airport… (It is pretty cool though.)

Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with iconic signs sitting outside of ballparks. The most well-known is the one Citgo continues to maintain just outside of Fenway Park in Boston. There is, however, a precedent that suggests the proposed sign here should not be approved as presented. I’m not the only one taking that position either.

It may also be a pure coincidence that there’s been three attempts to get some version of a Pepsi billboard approved by the committee.

Might it not make more sense to use the opportunity to demonstrate your significance as a corporate leader by asking for a display that celebrates the history of our city? Buffalo Rock used to have a very prominent sign in the City Center when it was located within its boundaries. It just happened to reference the flagship product. Maybe it could recognize or inspire us to truly look 50 years forward as visitors from around the world gather in Birmingham not just next year but throughout the next five years?

There’s also the issue of the cost of replacement which depending on which available online calculator you use; this one suggests it can get costly, quick.

It’s also not as if the city hasn’t been trying to reduce the number of billboards in the city. It was stated during a recent Design Review Committee meeting that significant progress had been made – and that the sign atop Two North Twentieth has been grandfathered in under current ordinances.

One hopes that maybe they’ll get the message – and that it won’t have to be posted onto a billboard first in order for them to notice.

André Natta is the stationmaster for bhamterminal.com

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Filed under: Commentary · development

2 comments
Joseph Blake
Joseph Blake

They shouldn't approve the LED billboard either. That means instead of a board like they have now, that can show one line of text at a time, they will be able to show graphics, different colors, and it will be generally gaudy just like the electronic billboards down I-65.

Andre Natta
Andre Natta

It'll be interesting to see what happens over time. It'd be nice to see them figure out some way to restore the current sign as I agree a new LED one would lead to its own set of issues.