By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A digital electronic billboard long planned for the top of the old Lit Brothers building, at 8th and Market Streets in center city, is now just three months away from reality.

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It was two years ago this month that the city’s Historical Commission okayed letting the current owners of the Lit Brothers building erect a massive LED billboard.

Now, the construction of that sign is finally underway, and officials hope to flick the switch on New Year’s Eve.

Mark Merlini of Brickstone Realty, who is overseeing the construction, believes the sign will draw more people to the Market East neighborhood.

“You’ll have some lights,” he tells KYW Newsradio.  “You’ll have interest for people to walk down from the Marriott Hotel and the Loews Hotel, on their way down Market Street.”

The new sign will be 14 feet tall and 75 feet wide, and will be made of wire mesh with embedded LEDs.   It has been manufactured by a German firm, according to Merlini, for just under $10 million.   The sign will display advertising and, in a nod to the building’s past, various incarnations of the original Lit Brothers signage.

Merlini says they also hope to show sporting events:

“We think we can actually stream in the Eagles’ game or the Phillies’ game, and that would just be phenomenal.”

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At the city Historical Commission hearing on the plan two years ago, anti-blight advocates argued that the electronic sign was not in keeping with the historic nature of the building, which is now called the Mellon Independence Center.

Merlini says the revenue from the billboard is needed to preserve the building itself.

“Every time we paint the building it’s a half-million dollars, ” he notes, “and you just need to generate the revenue to keep the building up to speed and keep it right.”

Besides, Merlini believes the sign is actually in keeping with the building and the area.

“I would say that 8th and Market has always been a retail, highly energized area.  And I think it would be nice
to get back to that time when we have people walking down the street looking at different signage,” he said.  “If you look at the number of signs that used to exist on Market Street, you couldn’t walk two feet without seeing another sign hanging off a building, back in the ’50s and ’60s.  And that’s when Market East was thriving.”



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