The Donald vs. the mayor.
That’s the clash of giant egos shaping up over the massive “TRUMP” sign that developer Donald Trump has put up to brand the 96-story Trump International Hotel & Tower he built along the Chicago River.
On Thursday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel belatedly jumped into the fray after a public campaign against the sign on Chicago’s second-tallest building spearheaded by the Chicago Tribune’s Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Blair Kamin.
“Mayor Emanuel believes this is an architecturally tasteful building scarred by an architecturally tasteless sign,” Kelley Quinn, the mayor’s newly-appointed communications director, said in an emailed statement.
“The sign — which was already reduced in size and scope — does comply with the provisions of the planned development ordinance and the City Council sign order. But he has asked his staff to determine if there are any options available for further changes.”
Trump continued his offensive on Twitter, dragging the Sun-Times into squabble.
“Before I bought the site, the Sun Times had the biggest, ugliest sign Chicago has ever seen,” Trump Tweeted on Thursday. “Mine is magnificent and popular.”
The seven-story Sun-Times Building, topped by the newspaper’s logo, stood on the site for decades before Trump knocked it down to build his high-rise.
It’s not clear what, if anything, Emanuel can do to force Trump to remove the sign or why the mayor waited so long to weigh in on the controversy if he felt so strongly about it.
In December 2010, Trump contributed $50,000 to Emanuel and $5,000 to downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), according to records.
When the letter “P” is added to the T-R-U-M already installed, the sign will span 2,891 square feet along the Chicago River. That’s down from the 3,600 square feet authorized by the City Council in 2009, before the sign was negotiated downward.
Reilly said he, too, would have preferred a “clean” façade with no sign at all.
But, the alderman noted that Donald Trump “likes to make big statements,” which is why his name is “large and in lights” on all of the buildings he has built. Since the sign complies with the city’s zoning code, Reilly said he had no choice but to approve it.
“We had a situation a couple of years ago when one of my colleagues didn’t like a business identification sign like this one and refused to approve it legislatively. The city was sued and we lost,” Reilly said of the dispute between Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Felony Franks.
“Because of that, the Law Department’s general advice is to pinch your nose and approve these things, even if they’re, in some cases, distasteful. For the critics who don’t like it, I tend to agree, but [Trump] probably would have sued the city had he not gotten that approval.”
Reilly attributed some of the sign controversy to Trump’s outsized personality and the, “You’re fired” public persona he’s built on the network television show, “The Apprentice.”
But, the alderman said, “If you look just a little bit further west down the river, you’ll see that the Chicago Sun-Times sign [at 350 N. Orleans] is actually larger.”
Earlier this week, Trump was quoted as comparing the illuminated sign along the Chicago River to the infamous Hollywood sign on the hills overlooking Los Angeles.
The Wall Street Journal quoted him as calling the sign “great for Chicago because I have the hottest brand in the world.”
If Emanuel can find a way to legally reduce or eliminate the Trump sign, the question is, how far does he intend to go?
What other signs along the Chicago River does the mayor want removed to preserve the aesthetics of a soon-to-be-built, six-block downtown riverwalk he hopes will someday rival Millenium Park as Chicago’s next great public space?
If the mayor takes too strong a stand against the illuminated TRUMP sign, he also risks looking hypocritical.
Calling it a “seminal project” with huge potential to boost tourism, Emanuel has launched an international design competition to find a team to deliver on his promise to transform Chicago into “North America’s City of Lights.”
The so-called “request for concept design proposals” for a “citywide lighting framework plan” comes four months after Emanuel shined the light on his controversial plan to turn Chicago into a Midwest version of Paris: “La Ville Lumiere, the City of Light.”
By July 7, teams of artists, building and landscape architects, engineers, urban and graphic designers must envision ways to spotlight five Chicago signatures: the Chicago River; iconic buildings; 180 bridges; a CTA L system that’s one of the most “physically striking” in the world and Lower Wacker Drive.
Architect Adrian Smith, who designed Chicago’s Trump Tower, has joined Kamin in blasting the sign as tacky and “tasteless.”
Smith could not be reached for comment.