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Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Orphan bank signage can stay; but only for one year

Posted on 05 November 2018 by Calvin

The sign at the corner of Snelling and University has been a long-time fixture and remained even after the banks that used it ceased to be at the location. The City Council overrode a unanimous vote of the St. Paul Board of Zoning Appeals to remove the sign. Midway Center reeceived a variance to keep the sign for Midway Center advertising, but only for one year. (Image courtesy of Google Maps)

By JANE MCCLURE
A longtime bank sign at University and Snelling avenues can remain in place for one more year, and be used to promote the remaining Midway Center businesses. Then it must come down. That is the decision of the St. Paul Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), which voted 6-0 Oct. 22 to force the sign’s removal.

The board rejected an appeal by property owner RD Parent Investors LLC, one of the New York-based entities that own Midway Center. Since summer RD Parent has sought to retain the sign, which served Midway Bank and later, American Bank, for decades.

Shopping center representatives have argued that the sign is part of the center. But city staff ruled that the sign was the bank’s sign, was abandoned and should come down. Allowing the sign to stay in place for one more year is seen as a compromise

Over the past year, Midway Center and its superblock bounded by St. Anthony, Snelling and University avenues and Pascal St., has changed dramatically. The Allianz Field Major League Soccer stadium sprung up after Rainbow Foods, Walgreens, and other smaller storefronts were torn down. Big Top Liquors’ longtime home was razed after that business moved into the former Perkins restaurant. Less than half of the original strip mall is still standing.

Midway Bank operated at the Snelling and University corner from 1960 until 2001, when the bank was sold. It then operated under new ownership as Dakota Bank and later as American Bank. A bank hasn’t operated at the property since 2013, although the property was used for internal operations and storage after customer service ended.

The bank building was eyed as a site for Midway Walgreens and went through the Planning Commission review and approval process for a drive-through window and building addition in 2014. That project never materialized. The building later hosted city task force planning meetings for Midway Center. It was torn down several months ago.

The shopping center owner contended that the sign should be considered part of Midway Center and should remain. City zoning staff disagreed and indicated that the sign was part of the bank, which for many years was under separate ownership from the shopping center. The zoning administrator said that the sign was abandoned and should come down.

In St. Paul, business owners who leave a location yet wish to preserve a sign for a future occupant are to paint their signs a neutral color or reserve the sign face within 30 days. If a sign isn’t reused in one year, the sign is to come down. City staff received a complaint about the sign in May.

The sign is also considered by city officials to be off-premises advertising, akin to a billboard.

The city staff decision was appealed to the BZA. The board held a public hearing in September and laid the matter over twice. One layover was because the board split 3-2 on one vote. A majority of four votes is needed for the BZA to act. A second vote was laid over to allow city staff and property owner representatives time to reach a solution.

Eric Galatz is an attorney for RD Parent and its two affiliated shopping center ownership companies, RK Midway. He said the sign would be used to advertise Midway Center businesses and Allianz Field. Because the property is under the control of lessee Snelling-Midway Redevelopment LLC, Galatz said it should be considered as one parcel.

Other commissioners disagreed about the sign, with some saying it needs to come down and others saying the redevelopment presents unique circumstances due to the size of the superblock and the sign’s past and proposed use

Galatz contended that the sign is needed by the remaining Midway Center businesses. “The businesses are really struggling,” he said.

BZA Chairperson Gloria Bogen said the bank property is a separate platted lot, and that the bank property is now a construction site. She questioned the claim that it is part of the shopping center. Jerome Benner II of the BZA staff noted that Midway Center’s superblock has long operated as a group of large and smaller parcels, with no set sign plan.

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