City’s skyscrapers provide highly visible marketing opportunities

High-rise tenants see benefits of cap signage

At some point in early 2013 — and pending a possible change to the city’s downtown code — a sign for U.S. Bank might join the AT&T logo at the top of the iconic “Batman Building.”

At about the same time, look for the existing U.S. Bank sign to be removed from the cap of One Nashville Place and replaced with Regions signage.

These moves would follow the late-July placement of a large ServiceSource sign that now adorns the east face of the top of what was long called the SunTrust Building. And that addition came both after Caremark signage was replaced by Baker Donelson signage at the 201 Commerce Building, and a Fifth Third signage change at the Fifth Third Center.

Similarly, Pinnacle Financial Partners had its sign affixed to the sloping cap of The Pinnacle at Symphony Place not long after the SoBro skyscraper opened in February 2010. Prior to that point, Nashville had never seen such a skyscraper-signage frenzy, if you will, take place during such a relatively brief span.

No doubt, big signs atop big buildings mean big business.

“Our signage on the building shows the long-term commitment to the city and to this particular [downtown] location,” said Keith Leimbach, senior vice president and general manager of ServiceSource’s Americas operations. “That’s important as we recruit [clients and employees].”

Leimbach declined to disclose specific lease details about his company’s sign or building naming rights (as did the others interviewed for this story). But he said ServiceSource was required to lease a certain amount of space in the building before it could move forward on a sign.

“It’s very important for ServiceSource to have a branded physical structure on the Nashville skyline,” he said. “We’re one of the largest employers of downtown Nashville.”

But prominent employers nationwide view the skyscraper sign game from different perspectives. For example, various financial institutions, insurance entities, retail operations (picture the 29-story Coca-Cola headquarters building in Atlanta) and hotels often want, when possible, high-rise cap signage. In contrast, law firms and accounting companies — which tend to be very understated organizations — tend to steer clear of such marketing. 

Terry Turner, president and chief executive officer with Pinnacle, said the visibility of the company’s sign on the sloping cap of The Pinnacle at Symphony Place is very important.

“When we started in 2000, we set out to be Nashville’s bank,” he said. “To have the opportunity to put our logo on a signature skyline piece for Nashville demonstrates that.”

Such specialized signage is not inexpensive. Most building owners allow for cap signage only from tenants that lease substantial space, and the cost to purchase, install, maintain and light a massive sign adorning the top of a high-rise can be significant. Typically companies themselves pay for the sign or a fee is built into their rent. Often, companies must extend their leases to secure the signage rights.

“There is no such thing as a free sign,” Leimbach said. “Our sign took up to four months to build. Then it took about a year to get contracts and the specific terms of the deal and to get the sign built. It’s a lengthy process.”

Interestingly, Leimbach and Rob Lowe, the Cassidy Turley official who helps oversee management of the ServiceSource building, reached an initial agreement for the sign in about 30 minutes. Jim Schmitz, Middle Tennessee area president with Regions Bank, said it was imperative for the company to have its signage on the cap of One Nashville Place.

“There is certainly the marketing piece and a certain level of pride,” Schmitz said. “It’s a statement that we believe in Nashville and downtown Nashville. We’ll put our flag in the ground, so to speak, in the form of a sign on a building.”

As noted, there is some question as to whether U.S. Bank will be allowed to place its sign on the AT&T Building cap and near the communication company’s logo. Soon to be reviewed is a proposal to modify the signage component of the Metro Planning Department’s downtown code. It is uncertain the code will be altered in general — or if a variance will be granted specifically for the AT&T Building — to allow signws of two entities on one building.

Ward Wilson, U.S. Bank’s regional president, declined to speak about the code issue. He did acknowledge that having a U.S. Bank sign adorning the cap of the city’s tallest building would be a plus.

“We’ll be a prominent tenant,” Wilson said. “We’ll have a branch on the first level and a couple of floors for administrative offices for approximately 100 employees. We are very excited about the move.”