Lower Manhattan may be on the verge of wrestling yet another title from Midtown, but one that few who live Downtown would wish for: The profusion of lighted building facades, LED displays, and animated digital signs on the local streetscape is beginning to remind some residents of Time Square, and inspire less-than-glowing reviews.
The illuminated building faces at 111 and 115 Broadway have driven some nearby apartment dwellers to file dozens of official complaints with the City about sleep deprivation. At the November 27 meeting of Community Board 1 (CB1), two residents of nearby 71 Broadway asked for help.
Rob Skula said, “recent approval from the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission allowed the owners of 111 and 115 Broadway to install LED lights, but we’re not sure they were aware of the effect of what they were signing off on. The displays on the outsides of those buildings are brighter than the spotlights on the top of the Empire State Building. And every 30 minutes, they start a three-minute show with pinwheels and flashing strobes.”
Tammy Meltzer, the secretary of CB1, asked, “have you filed 311 complaints?”
Mr. Skula replied, “more than 50 residents in our building have filed, and our building management has reached out to the owners of 111 and 115 Broadway.”
Lucian Reynolds, CB1’s district manager, added that, “we have reached out to Landmarks Preservation Commission to see if 111 and 115 Broadway had permits to install these lights.” (Such permits are necessary because both structures are legally protected landmarks.) “They do,” Mr. Reynolds continued, “but it turns out that Landmarks has no jurisdiction over the intensity of lights. We’ll keep trying to find relevant agencies, but it’s not clear which agency can regulate quality-of-life impacts in the form of light pollution. The Department of Environmental Protection is our go-to agency for environmental impacts, but they do not regulate light pollution.”
Robin Walker, also a resident of 71 Broadway, spoke next, saying, “I chose to live at 71 Broadway because it is architecturally stunning. But this changed in July, when 111 and 115 Broadway were lit up with new LED displays.”
“At first, this was a soft white that highlighted the architectural detail of those buildings,” she recalled. “This lasted for about three weeks. And then, at the end of July, the the three-ring circus began, with spinning pinwheels and constant strobing, all of which is reflected by the facades of glass buildings nearby.”
“Now,” she added, “we are living as shut-ins, with our blinds drawn. But the lights from 111 and 115 Broadway still get through and are visible on the inside walls of our apartment.”
Ms. Meltzer observed, “you can see it from the West Side highway and it looks like a nightclub, or a fireworks show.”
CB1 chair Anthony Notaro observed, “this is an important issue and we need to get some closure on it.”
In a separate development, residents whose apartments overlook the Lower Manhattan waterfront have begun to grumble about the barge that began floating by their windows in October, carrying large a LED video screen that displays advertising messages. Th 60-foot catamaran bears an electronic sign capable of rendering high-definition,full-motion video, similar to the “jumbo-tron” panels that adorn multiple buildings in Times Square. As with the Times Square monitors, the Ballyhoo barge screen is sufficiently large and vivid to be seen clearly up to half a mile away.
On January 2, the City’s Law Department served Ballyhoo Media with notice that it was violating several laws that ban marketing signage along New York’s waterfronts or within line of sight of a major highway. The notice from the City gave the firm two weeks to comply with the relevant statutes, but the barge is still in operation.
In a third case of coruscation concerns, CB1 considered at its December 19 meeting a request by the owners of 375 Pearl Street (known colloquially to Downtown residents as the Verizon Building) to install a digital sign, more than 1,000 square feet in area, that will display the logos of commercial tenants within the building. CB1 approved this request, with the stipulation that each logo appear for between 60 and 120 seconds, with a “fade” period of transition between logos of longer than six seconds, and that no image displayed on the sign include flashing lights.