2018-02-22 / Front Page

Plans arise to fill-in blank Saco Billboard

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


Maine enacted a law banning billboards in 1978 and only a handful remain throughout the state. Clark Insurance plans to redress the one on top of its location in Saco at 15 Pepperell Square. Saco Historic Preservation Commission has approved the idea and now Clark Insurance must seek approval from the city’s code enforcement office. An early draft of the new sign depicts the Mutual Theatre amidst 1930s era downtown Saco. (Grant McPherson photo) Maine enacted a law banning billboards in 1978 and only a handful remain throughout the state. Clark Insurance plans to redress the one on top of its location in Saco at 15 Pepperell Square. Saco Historic Preservation Commission has approved the idea and now Clark Insurance must seek approval from the city’s code enforcement office. An early draft of the new sign depicts the Mutual Theatre amidst 1930s era downtown Saco. (Grant McPherson photo) SACO – A local business hopes to refurbish an old landmark that sits atop its Main Street building in an attempt to beautify downtown Saco.

Clark Insurance has six offices throughout New England and has been located at 15 Pepperell Square since 2006. On top of its Saco location is a blank and faded billboard that faces the corner of Main Street and Pepperell Square. James Brissenden, marketing and communications specialist for Clark Insurance, presented a plan to place a new sign over the existing billboard before the historic preservation commission on Tuesday, Feb. 13. Commission members agreed to grant Clark Insurance a certificate of appropriateness. The next step is for Clark Insurance to submit a sign permit application to Code Enforcement Officer Dick Lambert.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Brissenden said that Clark Insurance plans to order an aluminum sign that would hang over the existing billboard. An early draft of the sign shown at Tuesday’s meeting included a view of downtown Saco circa 1930s, including Mutual Theatre, with the phrase “Welcome to Historic Downtown Saco” above and a Clark Insurance logo in the bottom left corner. Brissenden said the final draft of the new sign has not been decided. He said lights will most likely be placed on the bottom of the billboard facing upward and illuminate it throughout the night.

“This is going to be a Clark sign, not a Clark ad,” Brissenden said. “The point is to add onto or improve the aesthetic culture of Pepperell Square and Saco Main Street.”

Maine’s law banning billboards went into effect on Jan. 1, 1978. Kelley Archer, chairman of the historic preservation commission, said she suspects the billboard in Saco is at least 50 years old and was allowed to remain in place despite the state’s legislation. She said that according to the Maine Department of Transportation, there are only two other billboards statewide like the one in Saco that were allowed to remain.

Craig Pendleton, executive director of the Biddeford + Saco Chamber of Commerce, said the billboard was used when he was a child but doesn’t know of any serious efforts to utilize it in recent years.

“I remember it as a kid, there used to be White Star Laundry and Cleaners that had been there,” he said. “They used to have some stuff on the sign. By the mid to late 1970s when the state outlawed billboards it kind of got left by the wayside and nobody used it anymore. In my eight years (with the chamber) I’ve had one conversation about putting something there just to make use of it but it never went further. I’m excited Clark wanted to do it.”

Lambert said the billboard has remained in the same condition and location since the previous owners left the building in 2011.

“They moved out in August, about six months before I sent them a letter,” Lambert said. “I went to our ordinance and you can’t have an advertising sign that doesn’t advertise a product available on the property. It was still advertising Maine Cleaners and they weren’t there. We asked them to either remove the sign or remove the advertising and they chose to remove the advertising.”

Lambert said he remembered once the sign was covered in graffiti in the past five years and hopes the new sign would deter anyone trying to vandalize the sign again in the future.

Pendleton said he is confident Clark Insurance is up to the task of improving the aged billboard.

“It’s just this empty space up there,” he said. “To put something nice looking up, calling attention to historic Saco and having it lit at night just makes Pepperell Square a nice place and adds to the value. We might as well take advantage of it.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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