Tarp removed from Coca-Cola sign on Third Street

Ownership of downtown landmark remains in question

“The Arts Council, and all of the partners associated with the landmark object, seek to ensure that the sign is conserved, celebrated, and that it continues to grace the downtown. We have several legal minds researching how best to achieve that, in the face of the recent shrouding, demands and unwanted interruption of the sign’s unfettered presence.” Eric Holowacz, Arts Council president and CEO

The iconic Coca-Cola sign in downtown Baton Rouge is back on display after being shrouded in a black tarp for the past week because of a dispute over costs associated with the sign.

But questions over who actually owns the vintage sign remain unresolved.

Mike Crouch, who owns the building and leases it to Raising Cane’s restaurant, which opened last week, covered the more than 50-year-old sign on Wednesday, demanding to be compensated for insurance, maintenance and ad space. He asserts his purchase of the building in 2013 also gave him ownership of the sign.

But the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge says they have owned the sign since 2002, when it was donated to the organization by a former owner of the building.

The tarp was removed around lunchtime Tuesday.

Crouch’s attorney James Clary Jr., didn’t answer phone calls or emails seeking comment.

Eric Holowacz, Arts Council president and CEO, said the tarp was likely taken down because of concerns about potential damage to the sign.

Holowacz said he met with Crouch on Tuesday afternoon to try to resolve the ownership issue, but after the meeting, Holowacz was scant on details. He said no conclusion was met regarding ownership of the sign, adding that he is awaiting additional advice and feedback.

“The Arts Council, and all of the partners associated with the landmark object, seek to ensure that the sign is conserved, celebrated, and that it continues to grace the downtown,” he said in an email. “We have several legal minds researching how best to achieve that, in the face of the recent shrouding, demands and unwanted interruption of the sign’s unfettered presence.”

Holowacz said the sign is an iconic piece of history that “links our downtown to a continuum from the 20th century, that we’d very much like to see present for the 21st century and beyond.”

The sign was just finished being renovated by the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Baton Rouge to the tune of $20,000, which Crouch’s attorney took issue with in a letter sent to Coke and downtown officials last week before covering the sign. Crouch said the repairs made to the sign were unauthorized because he did not give his consent.

Coke representatives have said the owner of the sign is the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge. The council worked with the company to renovate the sign.

The building was previously owned by Elvin and Joycelynn Richoux, who owned Richoux’s Restaurant. The Richouxs donated the sign to the Arts Council in 2002 with an agreement that the Downtown Business Association would pay for the insurance and electrical costs for the sign.

The Richouxs sold the building to developer and attorney Danny McGlynn, who sold the building to Crouch in 2013. McGlynn said last week that when he sold the building to Crouch, it was clear the sign wasn’t included. He said Crouch used the sign as a negotiating tool to get $15,000 knocked off the building price.

The Act of Sale states the sale included the building and any rights McGlynn might have had to the Coca-Cola sign.

Crouch’s attorney has since raised questions about whether the donation should be legally recognized.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz/.