Esplanade closure begins February 1st

Fritz defends plan that’ll convert ‘America’s Bike Capital’ mural into big ad for bike shop

Posted by on May 7th, 2014 at 4:35 pm

A bike rental shop put the mural up without city approval. Now that the city has enforced its code, the shop has received permission to convert the bike icon to an ad and remove the current lettering.
(Photos by M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Update 5/9: Pedal Bike Tours spokeswoman Lota LaMontagne writes in an email that the letters won’t be painted over until late morning on Monday. “There has been no change in the decision by the city for the mural to come down,” she writes. “This is only related to timing on the logistics of painting such a large space in a public parking lot.” The story has been updated to reflect this.

The Portland city commissioner who oversees code enforcement said Wednesday that if the local business behind an iconic but unsanctioned pro-bike mural had wanted to create public art, it should have followed the procedure for doing so.

“There’s a method to get a mural,” Commissioner Amanda Fritz said in a brief exchange outside city council chambers, adding that the city council had “worked very hard to produce” a set of rules governing public advertising and murals. She declined any further conversation on the issue.

But because the downtown Portland building in question is designated as an historic landmark, an official mural isn’t allowed on the wall, either.

Advertisements, on the other hand, are. And barring further developments, workers will next week erase the declaration “Welcome to America’s Bicycle Capital” from the side of the building at SW 2nd near Ash. Later this month, the current 1,800-square-foot mural is slated to be repainted into a 484-square-foot ad for Pedal Bike Tours.

Like the existing mural, the new ad will also be larger than the 100 square feet permitted by city code. But because this time around, Pedal Bike Tours owner Todd Roll applied for an exception to city rules that are intended to limit advertising, the city is letting him keep the 484-square-foot ad space he’s now proposed.

Mayor Charlie Hales, who said he was familiar with the mural but hadn’t heard that it’s due to be removed on Monday, deferred comment to Fritz.

“Let’s let the permit process work,” Hales said, nodding to Fritz, who oversees the Bureau of Development Services, for any further comments.

Commissioner Fritz, left, speaks on an unrelated issue at City Council Wednesday.

Roll admits that when he installed the current mural in 2012, he decided not to ask for city permission before adding what he saw as a mostly noncommercial pro-bike message to the wall of the building his shop uses.

“I was trying to make this a point of civic pride,” Roll said. “I figured the city would see our way, and they did not.”

Roll said he had, however, cleared the idea with his landlord.

After city code enforcers received a complaint about the sign, Roll said yesterday, his business “went through a six-month process of trying to fight to keep the sign” and put up a “few thousand in fines and fees” in an effort to preserve it under the rules governing public advertisements.

At the end, Roll received the city’s permission to keep control of the area currently filled by the circular bike icon, which is both an international symbol for bicycles and part of the Pedal Bike Tours logo. He currently plans to add the name of the shop, an arrow pointing to the shop and “a few words about what we do.” All the current lettering is due to be removed.

“If people don’t like it and I’ve spent this amount of money, I’m just going to make it pure advertising,” Roll said yesterday.

I asked Brian Libby, publisher of the blog Portland Architecture, for his take.

“I love the mural, both its graphics and its message,” Libby wrote in an email. “And I think it ought to have been allowed to stay. But unless I’m missing something, it seems like the way Todd Roll went about this is what accounts for its undoing. You can’t just ignore city code and then act surprised or persecuted if it gets enforced. It may be true that local signage and advertising regulations seem convoluted, but the city has a careful tightrope to walk between minimizing billboards/mural ads and allowing artistic, non-advertising murals. I can’t help but wonder if the mural would be staying if Roll had followed the process from the beginning.”

Will Vanlue, spokesman for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, had this to say in an email: “The mural has quickly become an icon in the city that celebrates what we love about bicycling. Not being familiar with the process required to place a mural or large ad, we can’t comment on what should or shouldn’t have happened in the past. What we do know is people involved with this issue are smart and passionate about our city. We’re hopeful everyone can sit down with each other, talk about shared concerns, and decide on a solution which represents Portlanders and our shared values and culture.”

Mural, Portland, OR, USA

A mural elsewhere in Portland.
(Photo by Cory Doctorow)

Tiffany Conklin of the Portland Street Art Alliance had a question that was in some ways similar to Fritz’s reaction: why hasn’t Pedal Bike Tours tried to apply for a retroactive mural permit?

“I have heard of places getting retroactive mural permits,” she said. “It’s not the normal process and the city doesn’t encourage anyone to do it.”

Conklin said the circular bike icon “blurs the line” between art and ad, but that removing the circle would seem to leave no doubt. (In its current form, she said, the Street Art Alliance sees the display as fundamentally advertising in nature.)

“Get rid of the circle, and make sure that it’s not an ad in any way, shape or form, and he could probably get a mural permit for $50,” she said.

But Ross Caron, a spokesman for the Bureau of Development Services, said that’s not possible because the building in question is a historic landmark — and unlike advertisements, artistic murals aren’t allowed on historic landmarks.

Pedal Bike Tours owner Todd Roll and two tourists with the mural his company created in 2012.

Roll, for his part, said he would “theoretically” have been willing to remove the bike icon if that would let them keep the lettering.

After repeated scheduling changes, Pedal Bike Tours says the lettering will be removed late morning on Monday.

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  • AlonK May 7, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    This is good news. There are not enough ads, walls and electronic signs in our city and world. We need more. We need to be reminded daily to shop till we drop.

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  • davemess May 7, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    Murals aren’t allowed but advertisements are……
    Ah America……..

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  • dwainedibbly May 7, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    Translation: we aren’t America’s Bike Capital, we don’t deserve the mural, and it is going away until we can prove that we deserve it.

    Thank you 28th Ave businesses! You’re the reason we can’t have nice things.

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    • Mossby Pomegranate May 7, 2014 at 7:16 pm

      oh please. This dog piling on business owners has gotten so old.

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      • Huey Lewis May 8, 2014 at 10:25 am

        Not yet.

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    • Pete May 7, 2014 at 11:29 pm

      “After city code enforcers received a complaint about the sign”…

      H8Rs gonna H8. 🙁

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      • Cota May 8, 2014 at 10:41 am

        Who complained? Bob Huckaby?

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  • Joseph E May 7, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    “unlike advertisements, artistic murals aren’t allowed on historic landmarks.” This is the only part of the issue that really drives me crazy. Any pro-historic-preservation people care to explain the reasoning behind this? How does this fit with the 1st amendment? If advertising speech is allowed, then non-commercial speech is allowed, no?

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    • Beth May 7, 2014 at 7:00 pm

      I would guess that it’s because ads generate revenue, some of which MIGHT be useful in preserving said historical buildings, while “artistic murals” don’t bring in bupkus. Money, money, money.

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      • Alex May 8, 2014 at 10:10 am

        I might refer to you to Banksy and his affect on the value of a building.

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        • Beth May 8, 2014 at 2:03 pm

          Before Banksy, the was Basquiat. And when they really, really wanted one of HIS works, theives (or the artt dealers who hired them) blowtorched the door off the building.

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  • ed May 7, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    I’ve always thought it was a clear advertisement because because their logo is prominently featured. However, few people might be making the connection and that could be the real reason they are changing it.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) May 7, 2014 at 7:41 pm

      It’s currently a hybrid, no question. But the commercial message is subtle enough that I decided to use the word “mural” for this story. I think there’s room for disagreement, though.

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      • ed May 7, 2014 at 8:43 pm

        The logo is huge but I agree their branding is subtle/confusing because it is also an international sign for bicycling (not unique).

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    • Joseph E May 8, 2014 at 10:48 am

      I never realized the bike in the circle was part of their logo, until this story came up last week. It is just a bike in a circle.

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      • ed May 8, 2014 at 5:38 pm

        With the huge logo it is clearly and ad, but it is not a very good ad if nobody can make the association.

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  • wsbob May 7, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    Even though the building is designated historic, rather than on the front, or over a side of the building where a mural or sign could somehow conceivably diminish the historic nature of the building or the area where the building is located, the mural sign was put up on a brick side wall of the building. Over a parking lot.

    Even though Roll hasn’t yet been able to locate photograph documentation that at some time in the building’s history, the blank brick wall had an add mural painted on it, does not mean that buildings of this type, in the area it’s located, at the time it was built, did not have signs and murals painted on their sides. or back.

    I believe big, highly artistic advertising signs in commercial districts were common in the last century, especially through the 50’s. Lots of documentation of this in libraries, historical museums, popular culture, movies, documentaries, television.

    A reason this particular building may not have had a sign painted on its blank brick side in its earlier history, is that at some time, it probably had a similar sized or taller building directly next to it as a neighbor. Portland had a heyday pulling down a lot of its buildings of historic and architectural splendor in the last century.

    The city should use its head with regards to painted murals and signs on its historic buildings in commercial districts. For ad content, it should emphasize artistic caliber over straight advertising. In this particular case, the city being so stringent on its existing sign code regulations, is going to leave it with a sign that’s could be less artistically significant than the one that’s currently there. Wrong way to go.

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  • Charley May 7, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    I get that he should have gotten the permits in the first place, but it’s absurd that turning the mural into a advertisement makes it legal. Diego Rivera is probably rolling in his grave.

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  • maxadders May 7, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    Stop manipulating this story to suit your agenda. It’s already an ad, even if the slogan it uses is one that BikePortland supports / wants Portland to aspire to.

    The ruling stated that the size of the un-permitted ad needed to be reduced. Framing this as some sort of civic-pride mural is disingenuous and the articles here are beginning to sound a little hysterical.

    Somehow, I think bicycling in Portland will survive. Even without a billboard-sized ad for a private business disguised with the usual flavor of self-congratulatory Portland cheerleading.

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  • Brian May 8, 2014 at 8:30 am

    Do you think I can get a permit for my mural ideas? “Mountain Bikes Are Bikes Too” or “Welcome To Portland, America’s Bicycle Capital. Hope You Brought a Road Bike.”

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    • 9watts May 8, 2014 at 9:44 am

      I’ve biked in Portland (on Portland streets) for a good part of the past twenty-four years, exclusively on what were at the time billed as mountain bikes. Upright, comfortable, sturdy, simple, reliable. Why would I need or want a road bike to get around?

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      • Brian May 8, 2014 at 10:55 am

        I can see that was confusing. How’s this? “Welcome to America’s Bike Capital. Hope you Brought a Bike to Ride On the Road.” “Portland- Where The Trail Ends”

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    • Rin May 14, 2014 at 1:19 pm

      Here is all you need to know

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  • Todd Hudson May 8, 2014 at 8:33 am

    Maybe it’s actually better that Amanda Fritz does little else than defend homeless camps….

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    • Scott H May 8, 2014 at 10:45 am

      Amanda Fritz: she’s like our very own little michele bachmann.

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  • J_R May 8, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Wait until Oregonlive commenters get to this issue with the claim “Bikers support defiling historic buildings.”

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  • scott May 8, 2014 at 10:35 am

    “worked very hard” – Amanda Fritz

    A bunch of gassed up bureaucrats sitting around digesting their lunch and arguing minutiae over the rules to put in place to insure they get their licensing fee and thus justify their banal existence is not “hard work”.

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  • Oliver May 8, 2014 at 10:54 am

    Maybe we could get something interesting and attractive in that spot, like one of these gems

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  • Babygorilla May 8, 2014 at 11:27 am

    “worked very hard” – Amanda Fritz
    A bunch of gassed up bureaucrats sitting around digesting their lunch and arguing minutiae over the rules to put in place to insure they get their licensing fee and thus justify their banal existence is not “hard work”.
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    I’m no fan of Amanda Fritz (or any council member really), but she might have been referring to the years of litigation the City has been involved in with regard to the the sign code and murals which shaped the current policy to pass constitutional muster.

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    • scott May 8, 2014 at 11:36 am

      Litigation is also not hard work. It is the result of a litigious society, of which we are the zenith.

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    • Rin May 14, 2014 at 1:04 pm

      Thank you Babygorilla…If one would just step back and realize the work that has gone into regaining the right to paint a mural at all (of which this bike logo/wording is not – it’s a sign) maybe they would have a different perspective than to fling the blame this way and that.
      The cities hands were tied (whether we like it or not) as a result of the Clear Channel/City of Portland case…Clear Channel won and muralists continue to keep up the momentum as Portland Mural Advocacy (previously Portland Mural Defense – Joe Cotter during the trial period) and for those truly interested in seeing more public art to enhance our cities beauty and strength as a community should consider becoming an advocate along with us.

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  • Glenn May 8, 2014 at 11:39 am

    Judging by the photo in the article _something_ was painted on the side of the building before. Lord knows, I’ve seen enough “Red Man” tobacco ads on the sides of old buildings. I see this as the city being a bit picky. Result? Roll has paid some fines, and the city loses a large (and no longer true) boast and gets another, albeit smaller, piece of advertising. I don’t see this as a win for anyone.

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    • CaptainKarma May 8, 2014 at 2:18 pm

      He or she who filed the complaint may be experiencing some weird sense accomplishment. Would this person have complained had there been an “out” requirement to file complaints? Ah what does it matter…

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  • John Liu
    John Liu May 8, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    After reading all the stories and comments about this mural/advertisement, I am having a hard time figuring out why it is a big deal or even a small deal.

    The city has regulations about billboard-sized messages painted on buildings, and the regs require that this one come down. If the mural in question was a fast food advertisement, no-one here would shed a tear. The upset reaction here is simply because people like the pro-bike content of the mural. But regulations and their enforcement need to be content-blind. The city shouldn’t let an illegal mural stay up simply because its message is popular.

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    • John Lascurettes May 8, 2014 at 2:55 pm

      Because a lot of people actually found joy in it. Probably not you from the sounds of it, but there were those that did. I can’t say that about too many other advertising murals (though I prefer them over clearspace billboards any day).

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    • maxadders May 8, 2014 at 4:58 pm

      It’s really no different than a gas station owner adding a “giant ball of twine” or whatever to get drivers to pull over and gawk. Its purpose is to catch the eye and attract business. It was essentially designed as a tourist attraction, something for people to pose in front of and snap photos before / after they purchase a bike tour package from the business owner.

      Allowing the advertisement to remain– simply because it’s pro-bike– is ultimately a pro-visual-pollution stance. These rules exist for a reason. If any business could get away with breaking a rule as long as they pay lip service to green ideals, we’d have ugly ads popping up everywhere.

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  • dwainedibbly May 8, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    Mrs Dibbly & I will be laying flowers next to the mural this weekend, to show our respects.

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  • Joe May 9, 2014 at 7:12 am

    Keep Portland mural-ed, 🙂 why waste money on replacing this just ad to it
    with more nice local mural art, wait its downtown and some get stuffy about things. ( image )?

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  • Paul May 10, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    I think that in keeping with the historic character of the building there should be an ad for Mail Pouch.

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  • Frank May 13, 2014 at 9:48 am

    Just because I happen to like the mural /painting / whatever doesn’t mean I think its OK for people to ignore the process. If this guy can slap up a mural of a bike then why not a woman on a sports car? I happen to think pictures of women reclining on sports cars while wearing a bikini elevate the status of women and sports cars. If it needs to be an ad she could have a tattoo of bald eagle with a Budweiser can in its talon. No? Well how about the naked bike ride poster then? That one elevates the status of chickens!

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    • wsbob May 14, 2014 at 12:46 am

      The city could have ‘adopted’ the sign. The content of its alternative transportation proclamation was good public relations for the city. Somewhat related situation developed over the big, state of Oregon shaped, ‘Made in Oregon’ sign at the west end of Burnside Bridge.

      City officials and many other people were totally flummoxed over what to do about how the sign read. The word phrase doesn’t sound like the name of a business, but it is. So the city agonized and decided, ‘Nah, can’t use it.’. Now the sign reads just ‘Oregon’. Duh. Does that single word really convey something more inspiring about Oregon as a state, than ‘Made in Oregon’ does?

      Process can be important. Enslavement to process can be self defeating. This hang up on process relative to painted building signs and murals isn’t all the city’s fault. It’s also the fault, big time, of various irresponsible, overly exploitative advertisers that caused the city to have to build an exacting defense against negative things their ads stood to do to the city.

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