Even as Boston University weighs offers to buy and redevelop the buildings beneath it, the Citgo sign got a little temporary protection Tuesday night.
A city board voted to launch the process of making the iconic electric sign an official city landmark. That means any building plans that might affect the sign would be subject to voluntary design review with the Boston Landmarks Commission. And more stringent protections could come in a few months.
The sign's fate has been clouded in recent months amid BU's plan to sell 660 Beacon — the building that the sign stands on — and several neighboring properties. Real estate experts have noted that any new owner would likely want to build on the site, which could lead to moving, blocking, or even taking down the sign, which has loomed above Kenmore Square since 1965 and is visible from many corners of Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline.
BU has said it is encouraging potential buyers to include the sign in any projects, and that all the parties it's talking with "responded with concepts that include the sign." But local preservationists are pushing for more concrete protections and have gathered more than 5,000 signatures via an online petition to grant the sign landmark status. If they succeed, the Landmarks Commission — a board of 13 architects and development experts — would have to approve any major development plans there.
But official landmark status remains several steps away. First, the Landmarks Commission staff will conduct a full study of the sign's historic and architectural significance. That takes three to six months, staffers say. In the meantime, any plans for development on the site are subject to review, but only if the owner agrees.
Then, when the study is done, the commission would hold a public hearing and vote on landmarking the sign. If they approve landmark status, the issue goes to Mayor Martin J. Walsh and then the City Council for their approval.
"We're at the beginning of a very long process," said commission executive director Roseanne Foley.