Politics & Government

Billboard on Prairie Line Trail in downtown Tacoma comes down

An aging billboard along the future path of the Prairie Line Trail was removed Friday morning, bringing a sudden end to an obstacle that had cast a shadow on the downtown Tacoma trail project but that the city could do nothing about.

The small billboard was in the middle of a right of way along the trail, which jogs around the billboard site. The northern section of the trail is expected to be completed by next summer.

Tacoma City Councilman Robert Thoms told The News Tribune that the billboard’s owner, Clear Channel Outdoor, removed the sign in a show of goodwill and was not compensated for its removal.

The Prairie Line Trail runs along an old railroad bed that once brought the Northern Pacific Railway to Tacoma tidewater in 1873. Today it crosses Pacific Avenue near the Tacoma Art Museum. The city acquired the easement for the trail in that area after six years of negotiations with BNSF Railway.

Still, there was a billboard in the middle of the trail near the art museum. Earlier, BNSF had given Clear Channel a lifetime easement for the small sign.

City planners had to design the detour in the trail because they weren’t sure if the billboard would be removed, or when, said associate planner Elliott Barnett.

Even with the billboard gone, Barnett said the city might keep the trail feature.

Public art could be installed in that area, he said. The jog will also slow down cyclists in an area with high pedestrian traffic.

“We will probably keep that jog because it serves a purpose,” he said.

This section of the Prairie Line Trail will run from Pacific Avenue to the waterfront. The city of Tacoma will pay $1.75 million, which includes a mix of state, federal and city funds.

Barnett said the city didn’t make Clear Channel remove the billboard.

“It was one of their smallest billboards anyway,” he said.

Thoms said he’s been in talks with Clear Channel on the removal of the billboard because of its proximity to the art museum and location along the trail. He said he told Clear Channel that it makes sense for the company to remove it because the city and Clear Channel are still negotiating rules for billboard use in the city.

The company is working with the city to remove some billboards. Some locations don’t work for Clear Channel or the city, said Pam Guinn, branch president of Clear Channel Outdoor in Washington.

“We want to work together with the city … to still have a thriving business,” she said.

The city of Tacoma and Clear Channel have a long history of conflict over billboards. The City Council passed an ordinance in 1997 to eradicate billboards in the city within 10 years. Clear Channel sued the city just before the 2007 deadline, arguing the ordinance was unconstitutional.

To end the court fight, the council made a deal with Clear Channel to remove 85 percent of billboards in exchange for a few digital billboards on main roads. But citizen outcry caused the council to back away from the settlement and instead ban digital billboards and require removal of nonconforming signs.

Last month the city announced a working group to talk about billboard regulations. Guinn said she expects meetings to begin in September.