Remember that scene in the film “It’s a Wonderful Life” when Jimmy Stewart finds himself in an alternate universe of downtown “Pottersville”? Stewart’s previous charming town of Bedford Falls is now a place of tawdry lighted signs on every building.
Well, Tifton is no Pottersville, at least not yet. But Tifton City Council made a bad decision Monday night that could have a long-term, far-reaching effect on the kind of town we have in the future.
Yes, I am a member of City Council; and yes, I was involved in the issue.
City Council voted down, 3-2, a proposal, recommended by a citizens committee and endorsed by both the Tifton Historic Preservation Commission and the Tifton Planning and Zoning Commission.
The proposal was to amend the city’s Historic District guidelines to read that “electronic graphic display signs are not appropriate in the Historic District.”
What does that mean? Well, you know those electronic LED signs that scroll or have video displays? The proposed ordinance would have added language that such signs don’t fit the character of Tifton’s Historic District and generally should not be allowed within the district.
They would still be allowed elsewhere in the city, such as along U.S. Highway 82 where the majority of such signs are currently found and where they are appropriate.
Admittedly, this isn’t a problem in Tifton right now. There are relatively few electronic graphic display, or EGD, signs within the city. But current law allows them in the Historic District and that could be an issue one day.
If a store in Downtown Tifton erects a bright EGD sign, what’s to stop adjacent businesses from doing the same? The city cannot rightly discriminate and allow some businesses to have such signs but not others next door or a few doors down.
And downtown businesses are concentrated close together, unlike many businesses scattered around the city.
To use an apt cliché, once the proverbial toothpaste is out of the tube, it can’t be put back. So, once EGD signs proliferate in the Historic District, they are “out of the tube,” so to speak.
The argument that some businesses need electronic graphic display signs to advertise in today’s world doesn’t relate to our downtown. Such signs make more sense, say, along Highway 82 when they are attempting to catch a driver’s attention.
Downtown Tifton is doing quite well without a bunch of EGD signs enticing customers. Our downtown is modern and growing while retaining the charm of its past. There are many cities – and I know this from personal experience – that would absolutely love to have a charming, bustling downtown such as ours.
Tifton’s downtown has atmosphere, from the restored Myon Complex and City Hall, to the unique shops and eateries, to Veterans Park and Tifton Gardens, to the more recently created Gateway park. Additional improvements are occurring at this very moment as the Streetscape project continues along Commerce Way, and more appropriate lampposts with LED lighting are being erected throughout downtown.
I believe we have something special in Downtown Tifton and our Historic District. It is our responsibility to see that we have an efficient, functional, growing city today while ensuring we preserve our hometown charm for future generations to come.
It is a constant balancing act; I just hope we haven’t ultimately tilted things in the wrong direction.
Frank Sayles Jr. is editor and publisher of the Tifton Grapevine. On City Council he represents District 4, which encompasses most of the city’s Historic District. Sayles and Mayor Julie Smith voted for the proposed ordinance. Councilmen Wes Ehlers, Jack Folk and Johnny Terrell voted against it.