It’s been more than two years since the Ohio Department of Transportation issued an order to the city of Middletown to remove the electronic message sign near the Interstate 75/Ohio 122 interchange.
And it’s not clear whether the city will comply with the order issued on Feb. 16, 2017.
The electronic sign, that also bears Middletown’s logo, has been in operation since August 2016 and is on property off Commerce Drive now owned by Atrium Medical Center, which is part of Dayton-based Premier Health.
Previously, the property was the former Score and Cronin Motors auto dealerships and other companies until the hospital bought it for nearly $2.6 million on Aug. 23, 2016, according to Warren County property records.
On Feb. 8, Nathan Fling of ODOT’s Division of Construction Management, sent the city an email to ask whether a decision had been made or if any action had been taken on the matter. He said he was assured by the city six months before that it was working with Atrium to address the issue. City General Counsel Sarah Fox confirmed receiving the email on Feb. 8 and said she would be sending an update soon to him.
A message was left with ODOT for comment for this story.
City and Atrium officials have the same response as they had in August when this news outlet inquired about it — the city says it is talking with Atrium, and Atrium is deferring to the city to comment.
Atrium Medical Center said it is deferring any response or comments to the city, said spokeswoman Jennifer Burcham.
City Manager Doug Adkins said, “the city and Premier (Health) believe the sign is proper and we are talking about next steps to take in the discussion with ODOT.”
In December 2015, Middletown City Council approved an emergency ordinance for a development agreement with Commerce Center LLC, the property owner at the time, and Atrium Medical Center. The city contributed $75,000 for the project. At that time, Atrium Medical Center was in the process of purchasing the property and planned to demolish the old buildings on the site.
The original proposal was for Premier Health, the parent organization of Atrium Medical Center, to upgrade an old highway billboard for Cronin Motors to a refurbished high-definition electronic format for use by the hospital, which is located about a quarter-mile east of I-75, according to city officials at the time.
In the agreement, Premier would pay about $400,000 to refurbish the sign for the hospital, or other Atrium health care advertising, and the city would be entitled to use about 5 percent — about one hour a day — to promote various city events.
However, any signage near an interstate comes under state regulations and required a state permit from ODOT.
“I don’t know why the sign hasn’t come down yet,” said Joe Vogel, who is in the sign business and was one of two people who complained about the sign in 2016. “There’s no hospital on that property, which was not part of the city in 1959 and it’s too close to the interchange. It doesn’t seem fair to me.”
Vogel said he didn’t like the fact that a local municipality is “thumbing their nose at the law” and if it were anyone else, they would be in court.