CITY HALL – Imagine sitting outside at the future Steak N Shake on the Third Street Promenade watching the autumn leaves fall or staring at a snow-capped peak.

Well, you’re going to have to keep imagining.

The Architectural Review Board (ARB) denied a request from the owner of a mixed-use promenade building to add a 24-foot-long row of LED screens to a passageway that connects the Promenade to the nearby alley.

The facade would have been made up of six screens, projecting scenes from nature on three-minute loops opposite the incoming Steak N Shake’s outdoor dining area.

“This is to provide activity toward the front of the passageway closest to the Third Street Promenade and activate it,” a city planner explained to the ARB.

Because the displays would not show commercial content, city officials asked that it be considered a part of the building design rather than signage.

Applicant Arch Interiors Design Group Inc. is spending close to a million dollars on the redesign of the passageway, explained the company’s land use consultant Howard Robinson.

The applicants noted the 150-foot-long passageway on the corner of Broadway and the Promenade is completely white with no aesthetic breaks.

Designers of the project said they see the screens as a potential piece of public art.

They intended for more than just nature scenes to be projected on the screens, Robinson said, but city planners recommended that only a set number of displays be approved.

“The whole idea of digital panels is that you can easily change the images and frequently alter them and keep up with events,” Robinson said.

Regulating the content, Howard said, could be a First Amendment issue.

“I’m not thrilled with the idea of the screens in the first place because I’m concerned about the promenade in general getting busier,” said Boardmember Amy Rothman. “A lot of bright lights. A lot of moving lights.”

Boardmember Maegan Pearson supported the designs.

“I think that will add a nice element to all the other nice upgrade that are going into that passageway,” she said.

Boardmember Kevin Daly said that the idea for the screens would have to be further developed.

“I actually think you need a conceptual basis for it,” he said, “and a digital display is now so commonplace that unless there’s an idea to drive it, why this is adding anything substantial to the public sphere; I don’t really get it.”

The board issued a technical denial, allowing the applicant to either withdraw its application or appeal the decision.

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