Don’s Blog: Neon

Story by Don Frantz, Cary Town Council member, District B. Republished from Blogspot. Photo by Anita Hart.

Cary, NC – The council has received about a dozen or so emails in opposition to our consideration of a neon theater marquee sign on the soon to be renovated downtown Cary theater.

As much as I would like to take credit for our initiating specific amendments to our town’s sign code to allow for high intensity/neon lighting downtown, I cannot.

This particular recommendation comes from Cary’s professional planning staff who through years of successful experience working to revitalize downtowns in cities like Boulder, Colorado and Scottsdale, Arizona, along with the careful study of other communities, believes that neon/high intensity lighting when done in a thoughtful and tasteful manner can help Cary’s revitalization efforts. I couldn’t agree more.

Here are a couple examples of theater marquee signs. Note: these did not come from staff – I snagged them off the internet – but they are representative of what we may be asked to consider, and they reflect MY vision for our downtown theater marquee. The actual theater marquee (to date the council has only seen a concept image) will be designed by a collaboration of artists and the community.

If either of these two images is offensive to you, then you can stop reading now and we can simply agree to disagree. If not then read on!

Our vision for downtown is a destination place – a vibrant community where folks want to live, do business, and play. Nobody comes downtown for bland and beige; they are looking for something unique; a place that is alive and bustling with activity. A theater with a bold marquee sign will help in this regard.

We all want more retail and dining establishments downtown, but these will not come if they have no customers. Most of the restaurants and retail stores that have located in downtown in recent years are either struggling to stay afloat, or have packed up and left altogether. Many point to the lack of traffic – especially during evening hours – as their primary concern.

We have every intention of protecting the visual landscape in Cary, but we must also recognize that successful downtowns are lit up and alive at night. We will take great care to ensure that whatever is constructed is of the highest quality possible and tasteful in design.

I must say that I have been quite surprised at some folk’s reaction to our consideration of neon lighting on the theater marquee sign. Some of the same people who supported the bold and bright “art” on the Cary Arts Center fly-tower; and who also support the installation of “public art” throughout downtown are some of the same opponents of neon. Heck, even one of the sculptures in front of the Cary Arts Center head lights up at night. This makes no sense to me. A giant pink pig in Fidelity Bank’s courtyard or a 15 foot tall mummy is ok, but a neon marquee sign isn’t. I don’t get it.

If we are serious about our downtown revitalization efforts we have to think outside the box. The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.

In regards to criticism that Cary is “changing the rules for government only”, that is not entirely true. “IF” Cary decides to amend our town’s sign code to allow for neon or other high intensity lighting on theaters, then any theater or similar use (skating rink, bowling alley)could do the same. It is also my understanding that the Crossroads movie theater was allowed to have a bold marquee sign but chose not to – I have not however confirmed that.

I have historically supported relaxing Cary’s sign rules to better allow businesses the opportunity to advertise. I initiated Cary’s Sign Ordinance Review Task Force which recommended a host of changes to Cary’s sign code, and as my council colleagues will tell you, I have always supported the allowance of tastefully done and architecturally appealing neon lighting on any business in Cary. The council majority however, hasn’t been as receptive – and there is no guarantee the majority will support staff’s recommendation this time either. They just haven’t said, “no” yet. I hope they don’t. This is an opportunity to do something bold that will have a positive and lasting impact downtown.

I hope we don’t blow it.

6 replies
  1. The new kid on the block
    The new kid on the block says:

    I’m a recent transplant to the Cary area and I just purchased an older home less than a mile from downtown. One of the things that really attracted me to Cary was the strict sign ordinances. They really help make it a beautiful place to live. If you don’t like the ordinances, don’t do business here.

    With that said, I have no problem with an artistic retro neon marquee for the downtown theatre. What worries me is that this will be the first step on a slippery slope that will end with strip-malls, pawn shops, and 24-hour check cashing stores with windows full of neon signs. Where I came from, this was the reality.

    As long as this neon marquee is a one-time exception that doesn’t extend to other businesses, then I’m fine with it, but I fear that’s not the case. Can anyone provide more info?

    • levitra generico
      levitra generico says:

      Tuesday evening, January 31st, 6-8PM, at Town Hall, there will be a Theatre Information Workshop where citizens will be able to query and interact with Town decision-makers regarding plans for the renovation of the theatre as well as the redevelopment of Downtown. For a copy of the email ‘announcement’, send me an email at and put workshop announcement in the subject line.

  2. MarkA
    MarkA says:

    I agree. The pieces are starting to come together to make downtown Cary a destination. A cool retro sign for this historic theater building would be a nice addition. David makes a good point about investigating the use of LED lighting to simulate the look of neon lighting, but neon, if properly maintained is OK if the LED path would not pan out.

    Other communities around the state have passed Cary by in the process of making their downtown a fun destination for arts, shopping, restaurants, etc. Wake Forest locally and Hendersonville and Asheville out west have really made progress in these areas. With the Arts Center and other plans in the works, it is time to “go for it”!

  3. levitra generico
    levitra generico says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you, Don. Now is the time to decide once and for all if we are going to make our Downtown a destination where families may visit and enjoy all types of activities or if we are going to allow it to slide into nothingness. For near 47-years–with the exception of running the chickens out, moving the Chamber and Town Hall across the tracks and building a big bank as a centerspiece–there has not been serious movement toward building our Downtown into a showplace of creativity, diversity and prosperity. But now, all the pieces are in play. The tenor of the decision-makers and the property-owners is right. Now’s the time for all of Cary to rally together and build a great Downtown.

  4. Steve
    Steve says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I don’t understand what the big deal is here. Our “downtown” is pretty pitiful, to be honest. I agree 100% that if we want to have a downtown, we need be creative. The pics you shared are pretty cool, something like that would be a move in the right direction towards putting some life into downtown.

  5. David Brenchley
    David Brenchley says:

    Don’t get me wrong, as a lighting designer, I love neon. The down sides of it must be considered against current technologies. There is nothing more distasteful then a neon display in disrepair eg flashing, poor output, outages. I would HIGHLY recommend LED lighting be considered. The display could be fabricated such that it would present the appearance of neon, have a MUCH greater life, offer a broader choice of animated color schemes, as well a promote a local LED vendor (CREE). If properly presented, they might even consider helping offset the costs.

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