November 10, 2008
Houston versus the AGDs

Last month, I mentioned that City Council was looking at extending the billboard ban to include so-called Attention-Getting Devices, or AGDs. These are your giant inflatable gorillas and whatnot that businesses display to lure in customers. City Council may take action on this proposal this week.

If approved, the ban also would prohibit flashy and motion-driven devices, such as dancing wind puppets, spinning pinwheels, pennants, streamers and strobe and spotlights.

"I call them attention-distracting devices," said Jeff Ross of the city's planning commission. Ross said getting rid of them will make Houston more competitive with other cities that have banned them, such as Dallas, Austin and St. Louis.

"They distract the eye, create potential safety obstacles, obscure permanent signage and create visual blight," said Tommy Friedlander, who chaired Mayor Bill White's On-Premise Sign Task Force.

Used-car dealers and the balloon advertisers are fighting the ban.

"Maybe some people think they're ugly, but that's a subjective opinion," said Lori Foster of Cypress-based Texas Boys Balloons. Foster called the inflatables an affordable form of advertising, especially for small businesses.

"We provide a real service," said Jim Purtee of Houston Balloons & Promotions. "They add character to the city. People like them, they like the seasonal part of it: Santas at Christmas, Uncle Sam during tax time, pumpkins for Halloween."

Purtee said his clients report sales increase 30 to 100 percent in the weeks after installing a giant balloon. "You can't ban balloons without banning car wraps, those planes flying over Houston with trailing banners or people standing on the corner in a clown costume," Purtee added.


The Houston Automobile Dealers Association, a group of new-car dealers, supports the ban. But the Houston Independent Automobile Dealers Association, which represents used-car dealers, opposes it. [...]

Also supporting the ban are numerous management districts, super neighborhood councils, real estate groups and Scenic Houston, which led the charge against billboards in Houston.

Officials said holiday displays and residential lawn decorations would be exempted from the ban. The prohibition would apply only to attention-getting devices used for commercial purposes.

That troubles Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck. She asked how the city would distinguish between attention-getting devices and the holiday lights, bows and sparkly stars installed in Rice Village and the Galleria area.

"Both (are) used for commercial purposes," Clutterbuck said. "We deem those as tasteful and the others as tacky."

I sense a tag coming. As I said before, I'm ambivalent about this. I don't doubt that there's a benefit to advertising in this fashion for the businesses that do it, but that doesn't give them a right. I can certainly see where the neighborhood groups are coming from on this. I'd like to hear more debate on the subject. What do you think?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 10, 2008 to Elsewhere in Houston

I can see banning things that block views, cast shadows on other people's properties, obscure signage, etc. But banning giant inflatable gorillas? And "air dancers"? Unless they are somehow dangerous (and I haven't heard of any tragic air dancer fatalities) or they impinge on other people's rights (by being noisy, or blocking sidewalks, etc.), I don't see the justification. Just because they are in bad taste is not really enough.

Posted by: RWB on November 10, 2008 5:21 PM

Maybe I'm just not the type of person that buys a car based on the giant gorilla on top of the dealership, but I say get rid of them. They are an eyesore.

Posted by: Mike on November 10, 2008 10:28 PM
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