It's not clear yet who is to blame. But one thing is certain: The "Made in Oregon" sign is no longer glowing above the Willamette River.
Ramsay Signs, the neon billboard's owner, has turned it off. And that's not the worst of it, if you happen to be among the sign's fans. "It looks like it may have to be removed
," says Darryl Paulsen, president of Ramsay Signs.
When last we left the sign saga, the University of Oregon had decided to end its lease on the sign. That decision came in September at a meeting with Mayor Sam Adams.
The university — which had gotten into a flap with Commissioner Randy Leonard
six months earlier — agreed in April to maintain the sign in exchange for parking
next to the school's Portland campus, which is next to the west end of the Burnside Bridge.
Although the university had wanted to change the iconic sign to market UO in Portland, it instead agreed in its April compromise with Leonard to sponsor a sign that said "Oregon," not "University of Oregon."
But Mercy Corps, whose new headquarters are on the other side of the parking lot, balked
at the parking arrangement, which was part of the university's safety strategy for students. In response, the mayor undid what Leonard promised UO. He separated the sign deal from the parking deal
and asked the university and Mercy Corps to share the lot.
Ramsay Signs was then, apparently, free to find a new owner for the sign,
which costs almost $20,000 a year to maintain.
Now Paulsen says Venerable Properties, which owns the White Stag building on which the sign sits, is preventing Ramsay Signs from getting a new sponsor. As a result, the company turned off the sign last week.
Art DeMuro of Venerable Properties was not immediately available for comment.
"We were willing to keep it lit," Paulsen says. "We were going to keep the perimeter lit as well as the reindeer. But along with that we wanted the right to go out and find a new lease."
If they're not able to do that, the company may have to move the sign,
Ascribing blame in this scenario is no easy task. Paulsen says the city is responsible for the mess
since it tried to control the sign's message after the university said it wanted to put its name in neon. "The city can't control the content of the sign, and they knew it," Paulsen says.
But Paulsen also has harsh words for the university, which he says owes Ramsay $100,000 for design and permit fees. After this saga started, of course, UO got a new president. "I think it's unfortunate the university had to string us along only to have a change of heart," he says.
Julie Brown, a spokeswoman for the university, was not aware of the financial aspects of the university's deal with Ramsay. (We'll update the post when she has a response.)
Ty Kovatch, Leonard's chief of staff, says talks about the sign's future are continuing, but he would not elaborate. "Stay tuned," Kovatch says. "I'm confident it will work out one way or the other."
Update at 4:30 pm:
Art DeMuro, whose Venerable Properties owns the rooftop lease at the UO's White Stag building, says he wants to donate that lease to the City of Portland. But he also wants Ramsay Signs to donate the sign to the city. "I am dead set against the continued commercialization of the sign," DeMuro says. "It belongs in the public domain."
The mayor's office today said Leonard is in charge of negotiations now; Leonard is scheduled to meet with UO tomorrow.