City’s new sign ordinance promotes more aesthetically attractive signage and provides equitable opportunities for small business owners

  • New sign ordinance sets sensible regulations on signs and lifts ban on advertisements in the central business district
  • Ordinance brings city code on signs up to national standards and promotes aesthetically attractive uses
  • City hosting 3-day virtual seminar to discuss implementation of new ordinance Nov. 18-20
  • Ordinance goes into effect Dec 9

The City of Detroit has approved a new amendment to its current advertising and signage ordinance, bringing city codes up to modern, national standards and creating sensible guidelines for building owners. The amendment, sponsored by District 3 Councilman Scott Benson, establishes new rules to prevent an over-concentration of signs, including in the central business district, promotes more aesthetically attractive signage and provides equitable opportunities for large and small building owners. City departments including law, BSEED and city planning participated in a series of community engagement meetings with residents, business owners and community stakeholders for several months leading up to the amendment being approved. The amendment will go into effect on December 9, 2020.

"I was very excited to champion this ordinance," said District 3 Councilman Scott Benson. “The new amendment will bring long-needed order and equity to outdoor advertising on buildings in downtown Detroit. This will be a boon to landlords and ultimately the city because of increased revenue, but perhaps as important, it will allow city officials to have more oversight to ensure that the signs don't subtract from our attractive downtown aesthetics."

Previously, the city’s sign codes banned “off-premise” signage, or large advertisements on building walls in the city’s central business district. The new amendment lifts that ban and creates regulations on where and how these “off-premise” signs are placed, including size restrictions and a cap on the number of sign licenses. The updated ordinance allows signs on only one side of a building and no more than one sign per wall. Additionally, the new rules include location guidelines, a first come first serve system for license approvals, and a five-year term limit on licenses.

Also new is a two-tiered category system that establishes size standards for different building types. The first tier creates a local advertising category, with smaller maximum height and sizes to allow for more eligible property owners, fewer regulatory requirements to lessen the burden on buildings owned by small organizations or individuals. The second tier creates a super advertising category, with larger maximum size and heights and stricter regulations, which are more manageable by owners of larger buildings. The new categories avoid unnecessary competition between vastly different building types and property owners.

“This is a game changer for the city of Detroit,” said Dave Bell, Director of the Buildings Safety, Engineering and Environmental Department. “This new amendment not only brings our sign ordinance up to national standards with other major cities, it allows building owners to increase their bottom line, and provides clear guidance on what’s needed to ensure business owners remain in compliance with city guidelines.”

The city is hosting a virtual seminar designed to provide information on the implementation of the new ordinance. Current and prospective city business owners, sign professionals and stakeholders are invited to participate in the seminar. The three-day seminar begins Wednesday, November 18, 2020 and concludes on Friday, November 20, 2020, from 12 noon to 3 p.m. each day.

Information on the seminar as well as additional information on the updated ordinance can be found at

Media Contact
Nicole Simmons
[email protected]