The managers of the TD Garden have agreed to shrink the massive Bud Light sign on the north side of the arena within three years to comply with federal and state restrictions on highway billboards.
After negotiations with state highway officials, TD Garden executives pledged to replace the sign with a more modest display of no more than 1,200 square feet, less than a quarter of its current size. They initially argued that the sign, visible to thousands of commuters on Interstate 93, should be considered a landmark, akin to the Citgo sign in Kenmore Square.
“We still believe our billboard complies with all the regulations, but we all agreed this was the best outcome to avoid litigation,’’ said Tricia McCorkle, a spokeswoman for TD Garden and Delaware North Companies Inc.-Boston, which manages the building.
The Federal Highway Administration raised objections to the sign during a review of the state’s Office of Outdoor Advertising, which is charged with monitoring billboards and signs in Massachusetts.
In addition to citing the TD Garden sign, federal inspectors raised concerns about more than a dozen other potentially illegal displays in the Boston area, including a billboard in front of the Boston Herald, an ad on Boylston Street, and multiple signs at Logan International Airport and MBTA stations.
Federal and state rules limit billboards and other signs along certain major arteries as part of beautification efforts dating to the 1960s. For instance, newer signs can’t be clustered too close together for fear they could distract drivers or create unsightly clutter.
TD Garden representatives pointed out they had a legal permit for the sign from the city, as well as a multi-year advertising contract with Anheuser-Busch, the brewer of Budweiser. They would not disclose the amount of the contract.
They also told the state the billboard had achieved “iconic status,’’ since the sign was first erected on the south side of the original arena, the Boston Garden, in 1956 and has featured Anheuser-Busch beers since 1984. The sign was moved to the south side of the new Garden when it opened in 1995, and to the north side of the structure in 2007.
But federal and state authorities refused to make an exception for the 5,100-square-foot sign. They suggested that TD Garden shrink the sign or make sure at least 75 percent of it promotes the Celtics or Bruins, since companies have greater leeway to advertise the primary purpose of their properties.
When inspectors viewed the sign in December, it did not mention the Bruins or Celtics. It was dedicated solely to an icy can of Budweiser, with the slogan “The Great American Lager.’’
State officials say the current incarnation of the billboard, congratulating the Bruins on their Stanley Cup victory in June, would comply with federal and state rules, since only a small portion focuses on Bud Light. But TD Garden opted to shrink the sign instead to obtain a state permit, giving it more flexibility on what ads to use in the future
Cyndi Roy, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, said the agreement to replace the sign “achieves a solution we think is fair and reasonable.’’
A preservation advocate said she doubted a smaller sign would create much uproar - despite TD Garden’s landmark claims.
“We hear a lot from the public about places and objects that matter to them,’’ said Sarah Kelly, executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, “but we have never had a call or e-mail or any inquiry saying they are interested in retaining or preserving the [TD Garden] billboard because of its iconic status.’’
Other businesses have also agreed to remove or modify signs cited by federal inspectors, including one on Boylston Street featuring Jet Blue.
But state officials are still considering what to do about Boston Herald publisher Patrick Purcell’s two-sided billboard on the newspaper’s property along Interstate 93 in downtown Boston.
State and federal authorities have concluded the state should not have issued a permit for the billboard in 2004, because it was too close to another sign. The state is in talks with Purcell’s attorneys to “find a solution,’’ Roy said. A Boston Herald spokesman declined to comment, citing the ongoing negotiations.