When Proctors announced that its marquee was going digital, the response online was overwhelmingly negative.
City residents bemoaned the move, calling a digital marquee tacky, a waste of money or simply a bad idea. “Why mess with a nostalgic icon?” was a refrain echoed by many. But Proctors CEO Philip Morris says some of the naysayers have misunderstood what the Schenectady venue is looking to do with the marquee, and the ones who do understand but still object simply have a difference in taste.
“We love being a historic site, so we’re not going to do something stupid,” he said. “We’re also not a museum. We’re adapting our marquee for the uses that keep us economically viable.”
The decision was made for practicality’s sake, said Morris. For decades, Proctors staff have had to haul a ladder out to the marquee and spell out the name of an upcoming show or attraction in black block letters by hand. They do this year round, usually once a day, in snow, wind and rain.
“We did 1,700 events here last year,” he said. “The program of our facility has changed so much that the notion of putting letters up mechanically on three lines and not being able to rotate messages easily is an unsuccessful way of doing business. Almost every day, we have somebody up there.”
Another sticking point that people seemed to forget, he said, was that the actual infrastructure of the marquee will not be tossed aside for something brand new. In fact, because Proctors is on the National Register of Historic Places, it couldn’t do that even if it wanted to.
Olson Signs and Graphics of Scotia, which rebuilt the marquee 30 years ago, plans to restore the entire marquee infrastructure and its ornamental detail. This includes the marquee in back of Proctors facing Stratton Plaza. Pieces of the marquee “skin” will be removed section by section and restored. Cloudy lamp sockets will be replaced. The inside wiring and 60-year-old electric feeds will be replaced. Rusted and damaged metal will also be replaced.
“I think there was some misunderstanding, because when I talked to people, a number of them said, ‘Oh, we thought you were replacing the marquee,’ ” said Morris.
Proctors underwent a covenant review with the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to ensure that the marquee going digital wouldn’t compromise the venue’s status on the National Register of Historic Places. The review determined there would be no impact, Morris said. State parks officials did not return a request for comment.
Proctors Marketing Director Rich Lovrich also delivered a presentation to the Schenectady Heritage Foundation, which focuses on preserving historic architecture around the city.
The board passed a resolution stating that it supports the preliminary plan for the restoration of Proctors’ State Street marquee and the updating and digitizing of the marquee’s message boards with a high-quality, high-resolution display.
Heritage Foundation Chairperson Gloria Kishton said she’s heard both positive and negative comments about the plan to go digital. Some people were confused about exactly what Proctors planned on replacing, she said, and others were concerned that a digital display would be garish.
“There are people that just really don’t want to see garish lights,” she said. “That quality of light can be very garish to human eyes, and they just don’t like it. I’ve talked to people who think that going to a digital display is good, so long as computer programming makes it look like what’s there now. But obviously, once the displays are in place, you can’t legislate taste.”
Once the marquee goes digital, Proctors will still be able to make it look like the original black-letters-on-white marquee. Morris told The Daily Gazette in June that he waited on going digital for almost a decade until the quality of LED lighting became less pixilated and more like HD television.
“If someone doesn’t like something, they don’t like it,” Morris said on Friday. “If some people don’t like that we have the capacity to put up a colorful image rather than black letters on white, then some people don’t like it. Some people don’t like watching a guy climb a ladder to change the letters each winter.”
Proctors is also seeking to install an additional 19 square feet of signage next to its Stratton Plaza marquee out back. The marquee in back is 30 years old and features 1,296 chasing lights. But there is no place for staff to put up text or advertise shows, said Morris. An additional sign by the marquee will allow for that, he said.
Proctors will go before the Schenectady Board of Zoning Appeals tonight at 7 to request an area variance to increase the allowed 150 square feet of signage and to increase the number of signs at the Proctors complex from two to three, said Zoning Officer Steve Strichman.
Morris will then go before the Schenectady Planning Commission on Sept. 18 to request a special-use permit that will allow Proctors to put up an electronic message board at its marquee in front and in back.
“Digital signs are allowed in the city,” said Morris. “So any dislike for the plan is really an issue of taste rather than an issue of us not following the rules. We will meet all requirements by the city and state.”