Greater City Providence

Yay, signage at The Dunk

Photo by Jef Nickerson

A while ago, I wrote about the need for a sign at the Dunk. When the renovations of The Dunk were first proposed, an LED sign was included in the renderings, but as the costs of the renovations rose, the sign disappeared from the renderings.

Well, at the Sept. 27th meeting of the Zoning Board of Review [.pdf], the Convention Center Authority is requesting permission to install a set of video marquees outside The Dunk:

RHODE ISLAND CONVENTION CENTER AUTHORITY, OWNER: The Dunkin’ Donuts Center, One LaSalle Square also known as 101 Sabin Street, Lot 254 on the Tax Assessor’s Plat 26, located in a Downtown D-1 Central Business District and within the Downcity Overlay District (B-Street), filed an application seeking relief from Sections 502.2(C)(1), 502.2(C)(2), 603.2, 606.2 and 303-use code 68 pursuant to Section 603.3, in the proposed installation of two video marquees, each sign panel measuring approximately 8’8.3″ x 15’11.2″ each installed on the existing sign structure at approximately the same height and in a “V” shape below the existing identification sign on Sabin Street; one marquee would face in a generally easterly direction and one marquee facing in a generally westerly direction. The applicant is requesting use and dimension variances and seeks relief from regulations governing freestanding signs and maximum sign area within the Downcity District, and further relief from provisions governing signs that move, internally illuminated signs and billboards. The lot in question contains approximately 208,339 square feet of land area

The sign won’t be quite as big as what I made in the rendering above, but I say “Yay!” to signage!

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • I’d like to see some better signage on the highway side. The existing sign is so old and obsolete it gives a poor impression of the entire city.

  • Jef, if you can in fact arrange a Beatles reunion, I’ll step inside that building for the first time since the mid-90s. (And buy overpriced beer for the whole house.)

  • My take?

    1) Replace the highway-side sign with whatever you want. This is non-scenic highway and aesthetics aren’t really a factor.

    2) The sign that Jef mocked up is completely unnecessary. For every attraction it displays that I’m interested in, there’ll be a hundred that I don’t care about. It’s 2010: if I’m interested in a certain band or team or whatever, I already follow them via a dozen different methods and don’t need the sign. If for some reason I don’t have a particular interest but want to know what’s going on at the Dunk in general, I can just go to the Dunk’s web site (quite likely with a portable device in a matter of seconds as I walk by on the sidewalk).

  • So why have signs for anything then? Just whip out your GPS enabled phone that will tell you what’s there.

    Signage is important. Not everyone has a phone. Most people don’t follow sites that tell them what’s going on where. And if someone is there for a different event, they might see a display for an upcoming event they didn’t know about.

  • Jim, I think that’s a bit reductive and facile. Getting rid of all signs (your “why have signs for anything”), which would disallow basic declaration of a building’s identity, is one thing, and LED screens of almost a hundred square feet that advertise rather than identify is something else.

  • Jim, after this one I’m probably not going to bother: you keep insisting on inflating everything to carcinogenic proportions. Between my lack of interest in subsidizing the Dunk with my eyeballs every time I walk down a public street and your “we shouldn’t advertise events happening in our fine city?” is enough daylight to push a hundred-square-foot LCD screen through. There are alternatives. There are always alternatives.

  • This isn’t GC:Jesse, though.

    Signage is good for cities and are part and parcel of interacting with the world around you. Having your nose in your smartphone all day can be done anywhere. It doesn’t create any sense of place.

    Hey, if you don’t like LCD screens, good enough. Everyone has things they like and don’t like, but I think it’s a bit presumptuous and more than a little NIMBY-ish to say “if I don’t use it, it has no value.” I realize you will accuse me of hyperbole as well but this is the argument you have made.

  • Brick,

    Hyperbole, no.

    “This isn’t GC:Jesse, though.”

    My initial comments begin with “My take” and proceed from there. In what way have I attempted to monopolize discussion or speak for GC:PVD? I responded to Jim, and now I’m responding to you. Your remark is uncharitable at best.

    “Signage is good for cities and are part and parcel of interacting with the world around you.”

    To clarify, does (for you) “signage” mean all signage, regardless of size, media, or content?

    “Having your nose in your smartphone all day can be done anywhere. It doesn’t create any sense of place.”

    Again, alternatives. Would you recommend a hundred-square-foot LCD screen as one of the best ways of creating a sense of place?

    “I think it’s a bit presumptuous and more than a little NIMBY-ish to say ‘if I don’t use it, it has no value.'”

    It has precisely no value — to me. This quotation of yours doesn’t even remotely resemble a paraphrase; I’ve said nothing of what’s valuable to other people.

  • A 100′ LCD sign does create a sense of place, depending on the type of place you want to have. Every other “place” that is centered on a building of this type has at least one of those big LCD signs. Heck, there’s already a similar sign on the Hilton. This could be our little Times Square.

    Sure, it has no value to you, but the vast majority of people aren’t wandering around completely engrossed in their smartphones. When people walk through a city, especially tourists, who are the people a sign like this would benefit the most, they like to immerse themselves in the city. Digital signage helps with that.

    And I don’t think Brick was saying that you were monopolizing the discussion, but rather making suggestions for what is best for you personally, while the point of the site is to make suggestions for what is best for the city as a whole. I think it’s safe to say that quality signage like this is great for the city as a whole.

  • Jim,

    These are some useful points — I can see the benefit to tourists, and Times Square is a reasonable analogy. I probably muddied the issue when I refered to myself when I really meant any of Providence’s inhabitants or visistors. (Just for the record, I don’t have a smartphone.)

    Let’s call the current condition (everything as is) Scenario X.

    Would the hypothetical sign increase business and benefit the city financially? Probably. Does the hypothetical sign create a sense of place? Yes. Let’s call this Scenario Y.

    Alternately, the Civic Center could put up a different sign or put up no sign and spend the money in other ways to create a sense of place. (If we’re worried about tourists, give them information via electronic kiosks, which can do a thousand things a sign can’t.) The financial benefit might be there or it might not. Let’s call this Scenario Z.

    I believe that for anyone trying to balance a need for information with a need for pleasant surroundings, the technological advances of the current era make Z or X preferable to Y.

  • Your Z or X do not address the need for the Dunk to advertise it’s events to a passive audience. I personally would be a good target for this sign. I really don’t go out much for large events such as the Dunk has, so I do not engage in the Dunk’s website, nor would I bring myself to a smartphone app or a kiosk, especially if the kiosk made me leave the sidewalk.

    However, though I do not really have much interest in events at the Dunk, there is always the off chance that I may find something compelling or that I may learn of something coming that a friend would enjoy (maybe even an out of town friend who would then get a hotel room and such). A sign is really the Dunk’s best way to engage someone like me who is not seeking out information on their events on their own.

    They could also use radio, but I don’t listen to the radio (and my out of town friend does not listen to local radio). They could use TV, but that is expensive and I’m usually forwarding through commercials anyway. They could have someone out on the sidewalk telling me about upcoming events, but I would probably start walking on a different block if that was their advertising model.

    PPAC already engages a large LED screen and I personally think that does nothing but enhance the sense of place on Weybosset Street. Trinity has giant banners on the back of their building. AS220 plasters their windows with leaflets and posters. The Dunk currently is not doing anything to entice a passive potential consumer. And as we the taxpayers own the Dunk, I want to see it doing everything it can to maximize it’s revenue.

  • Fair enough, Jef. I guess the word “passive” is the crux of it, then:

    1) I think in the long term, a city benefits more from creating/catering to an active audience than a passive one.

    2) I think maximization of Dunk revenue is secondary to the above.

  • The city should cater to both an active and a passive audience. We’re all residents and should all be catered to equally. How does the city benefit more from catering more to an active audience? They’re the ones already looking for the events. They don’t need catering. It’s the passive audience who is more likely to take part in an event if they’re told it’s happening. Maximizing participation in events and activities is important to a vibrant active city. If you only cater to the active audience, you limit participation levels.

    As for the revenue at the Dunk, it’s owned by taxpayers. I don’t know how you can consider revenue to be secondary to anything. If the taxpayers are paying to manage it, we should also be making sure that it’s being managed to the fullest potential, and that means catering to both the active audience (those who check websites and kiosks and the like) and the passive audience (those who see stuff on signs and think “I should go” and buy tickets when they get home, like Jef). And that audience need not be residents of the city. Think about the thousands of people who come to Providence for a major concert, whether it’s Justin Bieber or Phish (who will be here in a few weeks, bringing thousands of people from outside RI to our fine city). They’ll be hanging out on the sidewalk prior to the show (at least this is true for the Phish crowd). Perhaps they’ll see an advertisement for an upcoming event that might interest them. They’ll think “I should buy tickets” and they go to the box office and buy tickets for said event or buy tickets when they get home.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen an arena like the Dunk that did not have a similar sign. The fact that we don’t have one makes it seem less enticing.

  • I guess that my word “audience” is unhelpful, because it limits the scope of the discussion. Let me try again:

    1) I believe that decisions regarding signage at the Dunk are a subset of a set of numerous decisions that impact the general activity/passivity of Providence inhabitants and visitors.

    2) I believe that the value of encouraging activity and discouraging passivity is greater than the value of maximizing Dunk revenue.

    GC:PVD isn’t the place for an argument about activity/passivity, which is why I’ll let this drop, but see Ellison’s THE GLASS TEAT and Postman’s AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH for groundwork. For me, the argument is far from abstract, and the benefits are far from intangible: my neighborhood association, for example, is moving from a passive newsletter model (communications produced through the intense effort of a small group and received passively) to an active blog model (communications produced collaboratively with minimal effort by a large group, received actively).

  • My neighborhood association tried that and is still trying that. However, the people who want the info don’t necessarily want to have to go to a blog to see it. Sure, it means the ones who are really active in the group see the info, and it can be argued they’re the most important. However, that’s not to say that those who don’t have an interest in going to a blog shouldn’t see that information.

    You’re not going to change the ways of people by not actively advertising events in as many ways possible. People aren’t going to think “I wonder what’s happening at the Dunk” unless they’re already people who do such a thing.

    I appreciate the type of discussion you’re trying to get at, but with regards to signage, the point is moot, and the audience is an important piece to this particular discussion which relates directly to a sign advertising events at the Dunk. I don’t know much about marketing, but I think most marketers will agree with me on this point. When marketing something like an event at the Dunk, you want to reach as large an audience as possible. A sign like this targets the passive audience.

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