You know when you drive across the Gervais Street bridge into Columbia, admiring the skyline? Or walk along the riverwalk, just trying to get that iconic Instagram shot of the bridge crossing the Congaree?
But what’s that lurking in the corner of your pristine view? A billboard.
Well, photographers of Columbia: Rejoice! That billboard is coming down – eventually.
The city, which owns the island in the river on which the billboard sits, is working with Lamar Advertising, the owner of the billboard, to have it removed.
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“You’re coming into Columbia or sitting at Terra (in West Columbia) having a meal, and you look at the skyline and see a billboard. It’s just a blight on a scenic river,” City Councilman Howard Duvall said.
It has irked him for years, he said.
“It is in the wrong place.”
But it’s been there since at least the 1940s, said Scott Shockley, vice president and territory manager for Lamar.
“It’s literally been part of the Columbia skyline for six or seven decades,” Shockley said. “Think of the iconic culture of a lot of American cities – billboards have been a part of that landscape for decades.”
Sometime after the property was transferred to the city from SCANA Corp. in the early 2000s, Lamar’s lease on the property – which was also transferred to the city from SCANA – ran out.
Only recently did the the city notice the lapsed lease, Duvall said. About a month ago, the city contacted Lamar about removing the billboard, Shockley said.
It’s just one of many Kit Smith would like to see come down.
“A lot of people don’t think this is a ‘serious’ issue,” said Smith, a community activist and former Richland County Council member. “But signs degrade neighborhoods, and I think it’s important to clean up the city.”
She and another local neighborhood leader have been mapping the city’s billboards, noting the majority of them cluster near “historically more deprived neighborhoods.”
The corridor near the intersection of Gervais and Millwood Avenue, near the Lyon Street and MLK Park neighborhoods, is particularly crowded with signs, Smith said.
But the one by the Gervais Street bridge troubles her because the bridge is an “icon of our city,” she said.
When the billboard actually will come down is not clear.
Accessing the site will be difficult because it’s on the island, assistant city manager Missy Gentry said.
And besides the physical challenge of removal, the city and Lamar are looking for an alternative site for Lamar to erect a new billboard in lieu of the one by the bridge, Gentry said.
The billboard couldn’t be gone soon enough for Duvall.
“Today would be fine,” he said. “I’d take my power saw out there and cut it down.”
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.