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Sign of the times: Citgo ad closer to landmark status

(Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/file)

The Citgo sign is closer to becoming an official city landmark.

In a unanimous vote, the Boston Landmark Commission Tuesday evening approved landmark status for the iconic sign, which would give it extra protections should a developer want to move or change it. Now it’s up to Mayor Martin J. Walsh and the City Council to render a decision on the sign’s status.

The Landmark Commission vote was the culmination of a two-year campaign by local preservationists, and Citgo, to ensure the sign retains its place on Boston’s skyline amid plans by builder Related Beal to redevelop the buildings beneath it in Kenmore Square.

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After Boston University put the buildings that house the Citgo advertisement up for sale, thousands of people signed online petitions urging the city to declare the sign — which was installed in 1965 — an official city landmark.

Last month, after lengthy review, the commission issued a report recommending a landmark designation for the famous sign, saying it has “become a cultural symbol to the people of Boston that goes far beyond gasoline.” The designation would not prohibit alterations to the sign, but would require review by the Landmarks Commission — a board appointed by the mayor — before any changes could be made.

Related, and some business groups in Kenmore Square, objected saying that a formal landmark designation would restrict development in the neighborhood and needlessly complicate the business relationship between Related and Citgo, which leases the Commonwealth Avenue rooftop space. The oil company and the developer — which spent $144 million to buy the building and several neighboring addresses from BU in 2016 — have agreed in principle to a long-term lease, but are still negotiating details.

Last week, the Boston Civic Design Commission approved designs for new and renovated buildings on the site that include keeping the sign essentially in its current state.

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“We remain focused on bringing our vision for the redevelopment to life,” said managing director Patrick Sweeney, in a statement. “We have always planned for the sign to stay and have incorporated it into our development.”

The Boston Planning & Development Agency board has a vote on the project scheduled for Thursday.

Meanwhile, Walsh will consider whether to formally grant landmark status for the sign, a spokeswoman said. He has 15 days to either deny the designation, or send it on to the City Council for final approval. The council would then have 30 days to act, at which point the saga of the Citgo sign might, finally, end.


Tim Logan can be reached at timothy.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.