The Ak-Chin UltraStar Multi-tainment Center advertises current films and specials using a large, bright electronic sign on the side of the building facing State Route 347.
Too bright, some residents and commuters say.
Steve Doddard, a building information manager who leaves for work at 4 a.m., said it’s positively blinding when he drives past in the dark, small hours of the morning.
“It’s incredible,” Doddard said. “It lights up the whole field that’s across the road.”
When advertisements featuring a white background are flashing, Doddard said, “I can see the shadow of my truck.”
Doddard, an amateur astronomer with his own observatory, is passionate about decreasing light pollution and what he calls “light trespass.”
But he also knows since the sign is on sovereign tribal nation land, there is little he can do.
“If it was pretty much anybody else, they would be governed by Pinal County ordinances,” Doddard said.
Maricopa resident Brentt Graeb wrote an op-ed piece decrying the dangers of the sign and calling for action. He sees it on his commute to Phoenix.
“When you pass directly dead center in front of the sign, if you have been driving in the dark, it literally blinds you to the point of rubbing your eyes sometimes,” he said.
Reaction to Graeb’s piece from readers on InMaricopa’s Facebook were mixed. Some figured it was a complaint about nothing, while others agreed it was dangerous and still others feared such a bright light obscures stargazing.
Adam Saks, UltraStar vice president of operations, said the facility got its certificate of occupancy from Pinal County and it was granted because the facility — including the sign — adhered to county construction codes.
He also said the sign was actually the screen for the amphitheater.
“So when we do concerts or events, or Movie Under the Stars, a free movie, that’s where it will play,” Saks said. “That’s why it has the best resolution possible.”
Signs that face traffic are normally regulated by the Arizona Department of Transportation.
ADOT refers to advertising signs meant to be seen by passing traffic as Electronic Variable Message Signs, or EVMS, and signs have to adhere to regulations.
“We do have specific guidelines on where they can be placed, their size, the frequency of their messages and their illumination,” said ADOT spokesman Dustin Krugel.
However, Krugel said, “the sign in question is on tribal land, and due to where it is located, ADOT does not have jurisdiction.”
Saks said measures already have been taken to mitigate the brightness of the sign at night.
“The brightest logo was for 10 Pins Down, the bowling alley,” Saks said. “We grayed that background and it immediately reduced the brightness.”
He said two other slides shown on the screen have white backgrounds and those also would be grayed.
Turning the sign off at night, though, is not an option, Saks said.
“I can completely understand their position,” Saks said of those who find the sign too bright. “But we still have a responsibility to market this facility to the best of our ability.”Saks said because the casino is 24 hours and the multi-tainment center generally has people in it until 2 or 3 a.m., there is enough foot traffic to warrant keeping the sign on.
Doddard maintained the sign poses a driving hazard.
“It’s distracting to some people,” Doddard said. “A lot of people are not adapted to it.”
Saks countered that, “there have been no accidents, no incidents.”
Aside from one person Saks said has been “very vocal,” he has not received any other complaints about the sign.
Still, Saks said the Ak-Chin are committed to doing everything possible to be considerate of residents’ concerns.
Doddard said, “Light trespass is rampant. We’re losing our connection to the night sky.”