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Signs of New Albany, Part I: New business closes, sign ordinance a problem?

Workers loaded fixtures onto trucks as the Imago Dei store closed last week.

By R. R. Reasoner

Two businesses on the prime commercial block of Bankhead Street between the Tanglefoot Plaza and the Tallahatchie River closed last week. It’s the first time in recent memory that two prime retail spaces in downtown New Albany have been vacated at the same time. One of the downtown stores that closed last week was Imago Dei, at the southeast corner of Bankhead Street and the Tanglefoot Trailhead Plaza.

Thursday evening, February 2, it was sad to see the fixtures and stock of Imago Dei being carried out of their retail space and loaded by workmen into a truck

Glenda Conlee at the June 28, 2016, meeting as she presided over Main Street Design Committee’s deliberations over what kind of sign Imago Dei could have.

The store opened last spring, with a well-decorated space and large inventory of quality merchandise. The owner spent considerable money and much time and energy creating an attractive retail operation. Expectations were high that it would enjoy great success in such a prime location.

Not surprisingly, proprietress Angie Garrett wanted to put up a sign so people would know she was there and open for business. As required by the 2006 New Albany city ordinance about “signs and outdoor advertising,” Ms. Garrett submitted drawings of her proposed Imago Dei sign to the city code officer, who sent them on to the “design committee” of the New Albany Main Street Association, a private organization supported by tax dollars.

The design committee meets

New Albany taxpayers will donate $50,000 to Main Street’s operating budget this year, up from $45,000 in 2016. Union County taxpayers are giving $12,000 this year, the same as last year. Tax money covers at least 70% of Main Street’s operating budget. Main Street occupies rent free space in the city-owned old post office.
On Tuesday, June 28, 2016, the Main Street design committee met in the meeting room of the Old Post Office Building.

This reporter arrived at the meeting a little before 5 p.m. and visited for a few minutes with Carly Wilbanks, then the Main Street manager. Glenda Conlee, who was to preside at the design committee meeting, arrived a short time later. Ms Conlee handed me a picture of the proposed sign. I looked at it briefly, took a picture of it with my cell phone, but a few seconds later Ms. Conlee tried, very aggressively, to grab the design illustration from my hand. I handed it back to her.

I told Ms. Conlee I would stay for the design committee meeting, and possibly write a story about it for NAnewsweb.com. With considerable heat, Ms. Conlee informed me that I could not stay for the design committee meeting.

I explained to her that the meeting was being held in a public building, that Main Street is largely supported by tax dollars, that they were conducting business under provisions of a public law, and that I intended to stay. I did stay.

Tommy Sappington, who owns and operates the clothing store immediately next door to Imago Dei, is a member of the Design Committee and was present for its meeting regarding Imago Dei’s sign.

Other design committee members arrived and the meeting commenced. A question arose as to whether the city sign ordinance allowed for a vertical sign such as the one proposed for Imago Dei. None of the committee members knew. Design committee member Jane Ford then said, “We need to have a person that reads the sign ordinance real close so we know what it says.” That seemed to me an excellent idea, and I was impressed that it should come up after the design committee had been in business for only ten short years.

Main Street’s work diminished by controversy

We need to have a person that reads the sign ordinance real close so we know what it says. -Jane Ford, Design Committee member
To be clear, I am a dues-paying member of Main Street, and support its work. The role of Main Street in sign approval was assigned to them by the flawed 2006 city ordinance, and I have no doubt the design committee members do they best they can with the work erroneously given to them by the New Albany Board of Aldermen. Certainly, Main Street or any other citizens should have the opportunity to comment on the work of city government. However, setting Main Street up as an official tribunal in this matter makes them an active player in an inevitable series of controversies and works to diminish the valuable work they do.

In any event, Imago Dei is now closed.

This is not to suggest that the time-wasting, inhospitable attitude the city took toward Ms. Garrett’s sign is the only reason she closed her store. She’s a smart young lady, has been successful in business, and no doubt made her decision after analyzing many factors. However, the whole sign business was an inhospitable slap in the face.

People who invest tens of thousands of dollars in inventory, more thousands for fixtures, moving expenses, deposits, marketing, etc. will inevitably consider whether they are going into business in a friendly place or a hostile one.

I reckon we showed her.

Truck parked to load and remove contents of store from New Albany

Signs of New Albany, Part II: Selective enforcement, poor judgment.

For Sept. 2015 NAnewseb.com article on sign problems:  http://nanewsweb.com/signs-in-new-albany-theatre-of-the-absurd/

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3 Comments on Signs of New Albany, Part I: New business closes, sign ordinance a problem?

  1. Jeffrey Gammel // February 8, 2017 at 5:46 AM //

    Downtown business all boils down to being a clicke. If you don’t belong to the right circle and have deep pockets, you will be run off. Even if you are currently abiding by the rules, a new one will pop up or they will brush the dust off an old one. Keep it up people. Word is already getting around. I can name four successful businesses that have chosen Oxford for a second location because of the political crap going on here.

  2. Brantley Bryant // February 8, 2017 at 11:31 AM //

    It is sad to say that the battle for a sign in New Albany is a constant struggle. I know this article is referring to the actual business sign on or above the business (there are lots of horror stories), but there are lots of ways the ordinance suppresses our local businesses from local marketing in a professional manner. FYI…there are a complete different set of rules for downtown than the rest of New Albany. I truly believe the sign ordinance needs to be seriously looked and and revamped if not scraped all together and start over. We need a standard but one that encourages businesses after they took the huge leap of starting a business in our town.

  3. This has been going on for years. When they put up the sign saying welcome to new Albany a fair and friendly city I laughed out loud.

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