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Big new US Bank signs downtown? Design review panel says no

Boise’s Design Review Committee decided not to recommend two new large signs atop the US Bank Building at Capitol Blvd. and Main St. in Downtown Boise.

The building’s owner hoped to take down the current US Bank sign on the south-facing facade of the octagonal-shaped building and put up two larger US Bank signs.

The recommendation will next go to Boise’s Planning and Zoning Commission, who can agree with it or overturn it.

The US Bank Building sits in the Capitol Blvd. Special Design District, set up by the City of Boise in the 1990s, which stretches from the Boise Depot to the Statehouse.  The ordinance aimed to cut down on “visual clutter” along the viewshed of Downtown Boise from the depot area.  The area used to have billboards, poll signs, and even a large electronic display for Boise State lining both sides of the street. Over the ensuing decades, most of those signs came down.

[2019: New owners and a history of Boise’s US Bank Building]

“The city recognizes the importance of Capitol Boulevard and desires to protect and enhance its special character,” the ordinance reads. “Capitol Boulevard is one of the principal gateway streets in the State of Idaho. It links two of the most important historic buildings in the city – the State Capitol and the Boise Depot.”

17.5x larger than allowed

Rendering of the proposed sign changes.

The ordinance also limits signs on buildings downtown to 65 square feet or 15% of the facade the sign sits on.  But the current US Bank sign is already over the limit – covering 323 square feet of the building facade, approved in 1998.

The applicant hoped the Boise Design Review Committee would allow two signs – totaling 1,140 square feet in size, or more than 17.5 times larger than allowed under the ordinance.

City of Boise staff found that the application did not meet the requirements for a variance, which include proving a hardship for the property. The applicants said their building was unique in size for Downtown, but staff disagreed saying several buildings are larger, and noted that the building was constructed in 1978, two decades before the ordinance was written.

The applicant also said that other buildings have larger signs, like Zions Bank and First Interstate.

“We are seeking a variance to be competitive with other banks in Boise. Our tower is taller than most others in Boise, but our signs are smaller,” Jeremy Gilbert with US Bank said. “We are looking to be up to standard with other national banks within the market.”

However, because the US Bank Building is in the special Capitol Blvd. district, different ordinances apply.  

Design review panel weighs in

“It’s certainly on the most photographed corridor in Boise, right down towards the Capitol, so we do not want to take this lightly,” Design Review Committee Member James Marsh said.

Map of the Capitol Blvd. special design district

Another committee member noted that the US Bank signs would actually both be visible from the Depot.

“With the unique design of that building, what you end up with looking down Capitol Boulevard is two of their signs staring right at you,” David Rudeen said. “It just seems like, OK, even one of those signs is larger than what the ordinance would say. But because of the angle of the building we get to see both off these coming down capitol blvd, and that’s distressing to me.”

Committee member Dana Zuckerman, who separately serves as chair of the Capitol City Development Corporation board, said she favored approve the variance request.

“The signs start to look dinghy,” Zuckerman said. “As larger buildings are built, maybe this is an opportunity to revisit the sign ordinance.”

Zuckerman asked if the design review committee would agree with approving just one of the signs instead of both, but other committee members not that was not what was proposed.

Ultimately, the panel voted 6-1 not to recommend the signs, with only Zuckerman opposed.

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Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
Don is the founder and publisher of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow. Contact him at [email protected].

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