Under Armour logo on Federal Hill may be illegal

Interim parks director gave OK, but rule bans park advertising

April 06, 2010|By Julie Scharper | julie.scharper@baltsun.com

The Under Armour logo painted on Federal Hill with the blessing of the city Recreation and Parks department apparently violated an ordinance prohibiting advertising in public open spaces, including parks.

The logo, painted on the grass with water-based paint, appeared Thursday and was removed Sunday after complaints from residents about advertising on the prominent historic site.

Under Armour, an athletic gear company headquartered in Tide Point, contacted Recreation and Parks spokeswoman Michelle Speaks-March about painting the logo on the hill to welcome participants in a volleyball tournament held at the Baltimore Convention Center. Although not a tournament sponsor, the company has helped the department with other projects, Speaks-March said.

Interim recreation and parks director Dwayne B. Thomas gave his permission for the logo to be painted on the hill, Speaks-March said.

"I took the request to the director and asked what the process was," said Speaks-March. "The director said it was just a matter that he could approve the logo."

But a 2007 law prohibits "general advertising signs" in nonprofit or publicly owned "open spaces," including parks, athletic fields, gymnasiums, arboretums, ice rinks and playgrounds.

The department did not alert community leaders or City Councilman William H. Cole IV, who represents the district, that the logo was going to appear.

"I think the biggest problem here was waking up one morning and seeing a logo on Federal Hill Park without any warning," said Cole, who was out of town when he received a call from a resident about the logo. "I had one of those panicked moments. How on earth did this happen without anyone knowing about it?"

After an outcry in 2008 over an art project that walled off Mount Vernon Park with golden gates, Cole sponsored legislation to require more notice from the parks department. When a group submits an application for a permit in a park, the department sends a copy of the application to interested parties, including elected representatives and community leaders.

Parks officials "should have taken a minute to look at the city code," said Cole. "They should have gotten a permit for it, because then we would have had a chance to look at it and say, 'Whoa.' "

City officials were not told of the Under Armour logo because the company did not submit a permit application, Speaks-March said. There is no permit associated with painting the park, she said, adding that the Ravens had emblazoned the hill with their logo during the playoffs.

Thomas - who has served as interim director for about six months - was unaware that advertising was prohibited in public parks, Speaks-March said.

"There certainly wasn't any intent to break any law or to disrespect anyone," she said.

Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, said the parks department "takes full responsibility for the oversight and will ensure that it is not repeated."

Cole stressed Under Armour's contributions to the city and said the company should not be blamed for the flap.

Under Armour spokeswoman Diane Pelkey wrote in an e-mail that the company would "continue to work with the city and have signage and branding" to welcome athletes to "key sporting events."

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