A corporate rooftop reality

We should be hesitant to allow rooftop signs in downtown Minneapolis.

Chris Iverson

As a civil engineering major, I used to scroll around on Google Maps and zoom into downtown areas. But soon, when someone looks at downtown Minneapolis, they may see a corporate logo on a rooftop.

The issue is hitting home in quick fashion. In east downtown Minneapolis, the Vikings stadium began construction early last week. A Ryan Companies project includes a six-block section, consisting mostly of parking, adjacent to the new stadium. Ryan proposed the $400 million project, which includes two Wells Fargo office towers, residential units, retail space, skyway connections, a parking structure and green space. The project would boost a part of downtown suffering from an overabundance of surface parking.

However, the massive development agreement would require a rooftop Wells Fargo logo on both office buildings. Pedestrians would not be able to see the logos, but they would appear in zoomed satellite imagery, TV spots with blimp flyovers and other forms of aerial photography.

Although rooftop logos aren’t exactly advertising Armageddon and logos wouldn’t fill Google Maps imagery any time soon, city residents should decide if this is something they’d like to see. After all, placing painted advertisements on rooftops in urban areas could be the next trend in advertising.

It’s a coy marketing ploy, but we shouldn’t allow rooftop advertising just yet.

The Vikings were fiercely opposed to the project, saying it would hurt the team’s chances at selling naming rights for the new stadium. The team said fans could see the bright red and yellow Wells Fargo logos from blimp shots on game days, negating a chance at stadium sponsorship.

More than anything, this conflict seems to be rooted in corporate greed and a capitalistic debacle. In what other world do multibillion-dollar entities argue over how much paint should appear on a building?

More than anything, this debate should be rooted in the idealism of satellite imagery and the modern-day ability to hover over the entire planet without advertising.

On the interstate, roadside advertisements bombard drivers in both flashy and utilitarian manners. In a way, satellite imagery is the last bastion of free travel; it’s the last way to explore urban environments without advertising getting in the way.

Currently, a city ordinance prohibits company logos or signs on top of roofs. The development would need a variance to allow the rooftop sign to proceed. But once the city allows a single variance, more corporations may seek out their own rooftop advertising.

Before we know it, corporate influence could engrain itself into pure satellite imagery.

Also, if rooftop logos become the norm and companies develop them poorly, the extra advertisements could push out progressive features like green roofs or solar panels. This ignores urban pollution problems and may worsen the city’s heat island effect.

The Vikings reached an agreement with Wells Fargo on Sunday, but the vote goes to the Minneapolis City Council later this week.

I encourage the Council to grade the prospect of a rooftop sign with a critical eye. If it allows a variance, I hope to see it couple the logo with green rooftop features. Also, I hope the Ryan development uses high-albedo paint to ensure the urban green rooftop movement continues.