Restoring Tucson historic neon

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- Take a late-night drive around Tucson and you can't miss the neon signs lighting up the sky.

They're historic and well-known, but beyond the bright colors, many are wasting away.

Now some Tucsonans want to restore the historic lights; however, they're having a hard time because of one city ordinance.

"These are very unique to Tucson," said Carlos Lozano from the Sign Code Commission.

The historic signs are part of the Old Pueblo's rich history.

"Compared to modern signs, there's a lot of southwestern imagery," said Lozano.

But there's one problem, they're in desperate need of repair and a city ordinance makes it difficult for property owners to do that.

"The code in its present form is very restrictive. It doesn't allow any changes," said Lozano.

Property owner Barry Davis is talking about Tucson's historic landmark sign code.  It basically says if the sign gets taken down for repairs, property owners can't put it back up.

"The sign code is really meant to make sure that signs of little value beyond advertising are reasonably placed and sized, but these are really folk art in many respects and should be valued in it of themselves," said Councilwoman Karin Uhlich.

Council member Karin Uhlich, along with other property owners and groups, are pushing for an ordinance amendment.

"It incentivizes the restoration of these classic signs and it exempts the owners of some signs from certain height restrictions and square footage restrictions," said Lozano.

But not everyone supports the change. Tucson Resident Mark Mayer is all for the historic neon, but says people will manipulate the new policy by restoring signs that aren't considered historic.

"We got the reputation from life magazine in 1970 for having Speedway as the ugliest street in America and this would have the potential of bringing back a lot of those types of signs," said Mark Mayer.

But Uhlich insists the city will make sure the amendment differentiates between signs with no historical significance and the others.

It's hope for property owners, who say the wait to fix their signs is better than the alternative.

"Even though she needs a little fixin' up, we rather have her stand here the way she is, then take her down and tuck her away in some dark basement," said Mayer.

Tuesday the city council will get an update about where the ordinance proposal stands.

Karen Uhlich says hopefully the next step will be a public hearing, then final consideration by mayor and council.