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Salesforce Tower to illuminate iconic SF skyline with digital light display

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A rendering of the proposed public art display atop Salesforce Tower. (Photo courtesy Salesforce)
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Salesforce Tower will soon project digital images on its crown, likely to intensify the debate around whether the building is a welcome change to the beloved San Francisco skyline.

Developer Boston Properties commissioned local artist Jim Campbell to light up the top floors of the Salesforce Tower every night with various displays, including images taken each day by cameras placed around San Francisco.

Rising to 1,070 feet in South of Market, the 61-story skyscraper has replaced the Transamerica Pyramid as the tallest building in San Francisco.

The tower, which can be seen from most areas of The City and as far away as Marin, has already come under fire for dominating the iconic skyline from San Francisco natives including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Milo Hanke, the former head of San Francisco Beautiful who led campaigns against expanding billboards in The City, said the light display is “almost like a dog marking its territory.”

“It’s a corporate intrusion into the public space in the most obnoxious dimension possible, stealing the skyline,” Hanke said. “It’s not their contribution to the world of art.”

But Campbell said Thursday at an informational hearing on the project at the Planning Commission that he designed the light display to blend in with the building.

“It doesn’t take over the skyline,” Campbell said. “We didn’t want it to be a billboard.”

Campbell contrasted the light display with the vibrant screens at Times Square in Manhattan, which display sharp images and advertisements. The images on Salesforce Tower will be soft, low-resolution and abstract.

Campbell himself will determine what content is displayed on the tower, he said.

The developer has a $4.5 million budget for the art display, according to the Planning Department.

The developer had to spend at least $3.4 million on public art in San Francisco under a requirement for developers to spend 1 percent of construction costs on public art.

Darcy Brown, current director of SF Beautiful, said she does not have a problem with the display “as long as they’re not flashing Salesforce across it and using it as an advertising tool.”

Public opinion has sided against widespread advertising in San Francisco for more than a decade.

Responding to the proliferation of advertising in 2002, voters banned new billboards and advertising signs in San Francisco to “protect the character and dignity of The City’s distinct appearance” and skyline.

San Francisco voters also shot down a ballot measure in 2009 that would have added giant billboards to a stretch of Market Street.

The issue recently reappeared when Verizon Wireless and Super Bowl 50 hung massive banners on the side of Embarcadero Four ahead of the Super Bowl in January 2016. The advertising was taken down after a threat of a lawsuit from the City Attorney’s Office.

The Salesforce Tower light display does not need approval from the Planning Commission or the Arts Commission.

The Arts Commission generally does not oversee public art on private property unless a company contributes funds from the 1 percent of construction costs requirement to the Public Art Trust.

Salesforce Tower, which will include residential, retail and office space, is slated to open in 2018.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated from its original version.

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