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Photo Courtesy of DCL (Fabricator), Design by Poulin+Morris
Photo Courtesy of DCL (Fabricator), Design by Poulin+Morris

Chicago Fast-Tracks Sign Approval Process

Posted: 10/28/2019

Businesses in Chicago could now get much faster approval for their signs, thanks to Mayor Lori Lightfoot's proposal to improve the environment for sign permitting. The improved business environment comes after several years of sign, graphics and visual communications industry advocacy.

The International Sign Association, the Illinois Sign Association, the Small Business Advocacy Council (SBAC) and local chambers of commerce formed a coalition in 2016 to improve the ability of small businesses to display signs in our nation's third-largest city. The coalition has enjoyed incremental success through the years, though challenges still remained.

Lightfoot, elected earlier this year, delivered her first budget address on Wednesday, October 23, mentioning her excitement for fixing this business-killing process. She stated:

"Another proposal about which I am particularly proud is fast-tracking the time it takes new businesses to get approval for their signs, down from as much as eight months or longer, to the day they get their business license – so their whole community knows on Day One that they are open for business. I heard about the regulatory mess that businesses of all sizes face in merely getting signage. I want the business community to know that we heard you and we are fixing this problem today." [Click here to watch the video at 1:16:30]

Lightfoot's willingness to tackle the issue was applauded by ISA. "Historically the city of Chicago has made it very difficult for local businesses and their partners in the sign, graphics and visual communications industry to get the signs they need," said Lori Anderson, ISA president and CEO. "It has had a direct impact on the ability of sign, graphics and visual communications companies to do business, and often left end users without signs to advertise their businesses."

One of the biggest steps forward in the ISA/Illinois Sign Association/Small Business Coalition effort was a June 2018 Chicago Sign Summit. The event brought dozens of Chicago-area sign companies to generate ideas. The group identified several key areas of Chicago's sign code—and how it is administered—that needed to be updated and streamlined.

During Chicago's 2019 mayoral campaign, Lightfoot publicly committed herself to reforming the process for getting a sign approved in Chicago. Once elected, SBAC's Elliot Richardson was appointed to the Good Governance Transition Committee.

When Lightfoot assumed office in May, she quickly took an important step towards improving sign codes by signing Executive Order 2019-2, which aims to eliminate aldermanic prerogative. Previously, aldermen had an ability to unilaterally approve, affirm, block or veto a departmental decision on administrative items, which affects signs.

"Mayor Lightfoot's commitment to improving the sign approval process in Chicago is a major victory for the sign, graphics and visual communications industry and could create a ripple effect that will impact communities throughout the country," said David Hickey, ISA vice president of advocacy. "We thank Mayor Lightfoot for her swift attention to improving the sign permitting process in Chicago."

If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to ISA's David Hickey.