Proposed ordinance to improve, implement new signage regulations for building owners, advertisers

  • New proposal would set sensible regulations on signs and lift ban on advertisements in the central business district
  • Ordinance would bring city code on signs up to national standards and promote aesthetically attractive uses
  • Proposed ordinance to be submitted to City Council for discussion, approval


The City plans to introduce an ordinance this week that would make major improvements to the city’s antiquated signage and advertisement regulations, bringing codes up to modern, national standards and creating sensible guidelines for building owners. The new ordinance, if approved by City Council, will establish rules to prevent an over-concentration of signs, including in the central business district, promote more aesthetically attractive signs and provide equitable opportunities for large and small building owners.

The submission to City Council will kick off a transparent, public discussion of the ordinance, and city officials will continue to collect feedback from building owners and stakeholders over the course of the discussion.

"I am very excited that this ordinance will bring long-needed order and equity to outdoor advertising on buildings in downtown Detroit," said District 3 Councilman Scott Benson, who sponsored the ordinance. "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 proposed ordinance would lift that ban and create regulations on where and how these “off-premise” signs are placed, including size restrictions and a cap on the number of sign licenses. The ordinance would allow signs on only one side of a building and no more than one sign per wall. The new rules include location guidelines, a first come first serve system for license approvals, and a five-year term limit on licenses. The proposal introduces a cap of 60 total wall advertising licenses for the central business district.

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. 

“We want to ensure that building owners and advertisers have modern, easier regulations for signage in Detroit,” said Arthur Jemison, Chief of services and infrastructure. “With the proposed ordinance, we have a chance to promote better opportunity for building owners and avoid an over-concentration that could overwhelm our residents and visitors.”

The ordinance comes on the heels of a significant increase in signs and advertising in Detroit, despite outdated regulations that made most signs illegal. At the end of 2017, the city reached a deal with building owners to remove most illegal signage in anticipation of the new ordinance to ensure new signage met the new standards.

The ordinance was submitted to City Council this week, and will be referred to the Planning and Economic Development committee early next week for discussion.