Blog Archives

Tea Party supporters hit downtown Phoenix

[Source: Mike Sunnucks, Phoenix Business Journal]

If you want a pin-up poster of Sarah Palin, would like to abolish progressive income taxes or think Ronald Reagan is the best president ever, you’ll probably be in downtown Phoenix this weekend.

Approximately 2,200 tea partiers are in Phoenix this weekend for a policy summit focused on federal spending, health care, taxes and immigration. The weekend event is at the Phoenix Convention Center.

Presidential contenders Tim Pawlenty and Ron Paul, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, conservative commentator Dick Morris and U.S. Rep. David Schweikert, R-Scottsdale/Tempe, are some of the speakers.

Arpaio is considering a run for the U.S. Senate in 2012.

A host of conservative, anti-tax and anti-government groups are also in Phoenix advocating everything from the elimination of the Internal Revenue Service and progressive income taxes, to fighting labor unions and President Barack Obama on health care.

Sarah Palin will not be there, according to the event schedule. But conservative groupies of the former Alaskan governor can get a large poster of her — as well as Reagan — from the Young America’s Foundation. You just have to sign up for the group’s mailing list.

Judging from the exhibit hall and the sentiments among those attending, Palin enjoys strong support among the tea party activists for a possible 2012 presidential run.

Jon Talton Responds to DVC’s Downtown Phoenix Assessment

The following is a post by Jon Talton, a former Arizona Republic business columnist, who now writes as “Rogue Columnist.” Jon wrote the following post using Downtown Voices Coalition’s Saturday op-ed as a springboard for discussion.

[Source: Rogue Columnist]

Downtown, again

Susan Copeland, chair of the Downtown Voices Coalition, recently wrote an op-ed in the Arizona Republic, entitled, “A realistic downtown assessment.” It was mostly a clear-eyed look at the reality of downtown Phoenix’s challenges: Expecting too much from sports teams, failure to integrate ASU into the city fabric, too many surface parking lots and chimerical hopes from an “entertainment district.” Copeland rightly adds that CityScape is “suburban mall stylistically dating to the 20th century,” although I have a hard time mourning the brutalist “park” of Patriot’s Square. She adds:

With all the damage done, there are still hopeful signs, if only our city officials and civic leaders follow their own community vetted and charetted ideals. The Urban Form Project; Arts, Culture, and Small Business District Overlay; and Adaptive Reuse Program are smarter moves for aspiring urban infill than another stab at a faux urban Entertainment District. When the city actually listens to its citizens rather than check-marking the input box, great things happen, like the improved ASU Nursing School exterior or the forthcoming Washington Street Centennial Project.

Well, fine. And good on her for searching for realism. But regular readers will have to forgive me if I cover some familiar ground as well as discuss the deep problems and real opportunities facing downtown Phoenix. I’m still not sure people fully get it.

Phoenix leaders made a series of catastrophic mistakes in the 1960s, 1970s and even 1980s that left downtown nearly dead. Among them: Bulldozing of the Deuce to make room for homely Civic Plaza with no provision for where the homeless would go; failure to preserve the kinds of historic buildings that provide the bones of a great city, or even the one- and two-story buildings that could have housed small businesses in a downtown revival; pursuing a policy of massive tear-downs in downtown and the capitol mall, and allowing quality of life petty crime that, along with City Hall’s neglect, drove out the small retailers and their customers. Retail for the working poor was also forced out in a misguided effort to turn downtown into an office “park” with stadiums. In addition, the produce district was allowed to fade as agriculture became less important and passenger train service ended, and no strategy was pursued to give this fascinating area a second life. Most Phoenicians today can’t even imagine that as late as the 1960s, downtown Phoenix was the state’s busiest shopping district and all those vacant lots — or bland parking garages and boxy skyscrapers — once held many precious buildings and dense business activity.

To be sure, bad luck and prevailing trends played a huge role. These were the eras of malls and cheap gasoline, the suburban dream and the notion that downtowns were things of the past. The art of civic design had been lost, so lovely territorial buildings were demolished to make room for Patriot’s Square, and in front of Symphony Hall was an ugly frying pan of a “public space.” Phoenix was cursed with more land than brains, so sprawl constantly drew businesses and residents outward. Park Central and the skyscrapers of Uptown were only the beginning. The old merchant princes that had held downtown together died off. Not enough major companies remained. Outside of Palmcroft, no affluent neighborhoods were close to the core; the Papago Freeway nearly killed off the middle-class neighborhoods directly north of downtown and the comeback took many years. Over time, much popular loyalty to downtown faded.

All this left downtown deader than that of any major city I have studied or lived in. As it turns out, downtowns are very important and enjoyed a renaissance in many places. Yet for Phoenix, coming back from such a hole is very difficult. (Even Charlotte, with its banks and other headquarters driving a major downtown revival, has failed to really rekindle retail, having allowed its department stores to decamp to a mall, its local small businesses to die, and some of its best historic buildings to be ripped down). Thus, skyscrapers were slowly added, Arizona Center was built (but facing in, like a suburban mall), the Civic Plaza expanded. But the patient was at best stabilized. Tear-downs continued. The major headquarters were either bought by outsiders or, in the case of APS, radically downsized. The consequences were staggering; for example, imagine if Wells Fargo had built its operations center downtown rather than in exurban Chandler? The stadiums were fine, but the people who vilified Jerry Colangelo (now a West Side developer — happy?) missed the point. So many stewards with the means to invest in downtown were gone that Colangelo was the last man standing. There was no Colangelo of banking. No Colangelo building a software district in the old produce warehouses. No Colangelo to endow a new Symphony Hall. None to keep and lure new small businesses. None developing new office buildings and filling them with tenants. In other words, all the stadiums are in downtown Denver, but that didn’t stop that city’s revival in other areas. But Denver was never in Phoenix’s hole (it came close, with modernist planners wanting to tear down Union Station and the historic buildings of SoDo). And it had stewards and business leaders with capital and vision.

The 2000s seemed promising. Under Mayor Skip Rimsza, and followed through by Phil Gordon, the city built a fine convention center, light rail, ASU downtown, the Sheraton and lured T-Gen and the UofA medical school. The Herberger Theater Center, Chase Field and USAirways Arena are all valuable assets (the football stadium should, and could, have been built downtown). “Meds and eds” could have been a real game changer had it been pursued with vigor, creating a major medical-research-biotech hub downtown. It wasn’t, and other mistakes also held back downtown. City Hall dragged its feet on mixed-use, adaptive reuse and other downtown-friendly policies. The Downtown Phoenix Partnership wasted money and time on the insipid “Copper Square” “rebranding campaign.” Downtown got caught up in the bubble, and the narrow capital financing it in metro Phoenix. Thus, the promising 44 Monroe looks headed for apartments. The lovely art deco Valley National Bank headquarters never made it to boutique hotel. Downtown, and the center city, continue to lack enough private investment, high-paid jobs and residents with money and an urban sensibility to crawl back past the tipping point. It lacks a real economic-development organization. A hostile Legislature — and perhaps in the future hostile City Council — present a daunting challenge; one example is the lack of tax-increment financing, critical to downtown San Diego’s comeback, or support for the downtown university/biosciences campuses. Land banking continues to make the core look uninviting, to say the least. Center city champions, so combat fatigued from years of banging their heads against City Hall, sometimes pick the wrong battles, are often too far from each other to build a critical mass, and in any case lack the capital to really launch a comeback.

So what to do with a challenge? It’s unlike any other major city in America. Does Phoenix need a downtown? Can it ever attract an urban sensibility of its own? Can it see the central core as critical for sustainability? What, realistically, can be done? I’ll take all this up next time, and I’m sure our commenters will start early. To note: This is the 10th anniversary of Portland’s restaurant, not downtown but close. It shows what the passion and persistence of two local owners, Dylan and Michelle Bethge, can do. This has been replicated elsewhere, just not enough. And: Will Bruder has left Scottsdale to move back to the Central Corridor.

Update

Jon has written a follow-up column. You can find it here.

10 Downtown Phoenix holiday events

[Source: Downtown Phoenix Partnerships]

VYT_Pooh206x135

Valley Youth Theatre Presents A Winnie the Pooh Christmas Tail

The holidays are getting bigger Downtown. Just a few years ago, it would have been tough to name more than five big events for the holidays. This year, it was tough to narrow it down to 10 (download the entire holiday calendar here).

So, in semi-chronological order, here are 10 ideas to amp up your holiday cheer:

  1. Ice Skating in the Park – Wow. Our very own Lincoln Center. From now through Jan. 15, the plaza at CityScape will transform into an ice rink. The cost is $10 per person, including skate rentals and the rink is open daily 3-11 p.m.
  2. Valley Youth Theatre Presents A Winnie the Pooh Christmas Tail – Speaking as a lifelong Eeyore, get some tix for this holiday classic or that pesky raincloud might hang over your head. Dec. 3-23.
  3. Center Dance Ensemble Presents The Snow Queen – If you’ve got family from out of town, warm them up with this gorgeous retelling of a Hans Christian Andersen tale, set to music by Prokofiev. Herberger Theater, Dec. 4-19. Discounts available for students and seniors.
  4. Actors Theatre Company Presents A Christmas Carol Danger, Will Robinson: After 19 years, ATC is retiring this terrific musical. Herberger Theater, Dec. 4-24.
  5. Candlelight Messiah – Played in a candlelit setting (which is a pretty cool idea) the Phoenix Symphony Chorus performs Handel’s “Messiah.” St. Mary’s Basilica, Friday, Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m.
  6. Ballet Arizona Presents Ib Andersen’s The Nutcracker – This one goes without saying. Ballet Arizona is a local treasure, so go and get swept away by this spectacular production. Symphony Hall, Dec. 10-26.
  7. Christmas Mariachi Festival – The world’s top mariachis and the amazing Ballet Folklorico come together for this annual event. US Airways Center, Dec. 11 at 7 p.m.
  8. Alice Cooper’s Christmas Pudding – For us locals, Alice is a bit of a hero; he’s done great things to boost his hometown. On Dec. 18, you can join Alice and his original band, along with Rob Zombie, Cheech Marin and more for a night of comedy and music to benefit Valley youth. 7 p.m., Comerica Theater (that’s the new name for the Dodge).
  9. Snow Day at the Children’s Museum of Phoenix – On Dec. 19, ten tons of snow will fall on the front lawn, with a visit from Frosty the Snowman. You know you want to go. Tickets are $9 each and include museum admission.
  10. The Salvation Army Christmas Dinner – A nice reminder about one of the best meanings of the season. These good folks can always use donations, food and volunteers. Dec. 25 at the Phoenix Convention Center. Doors open at 9:30 a.m.
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Sustainability Forum at Downtown Phoenix’s Convention Center this Thursday

The Phoenix Convention Center invites you to join then at their Annual Sustainability Forum between 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010.

  • Meet and network with local businesses, professionals and industry experts Learn how to implement sustainable practices at your business or home
  • Visit exhibitor booths

This event is free and open to the public!


Discussion topics and exhibits include:

  • Why Local Matters – Kimber Lanning, Local First Arizona
  • Green Careers – Dr. George Brooks, Southwest Green Magazine; Phil McNeely, City of Phoenix Office of Environmental Programs; Mark Wilhelm, Green Ideas; Eric Frei, Waxie
  • Power of the Virtuous Cycle: Closing the Loop on Food Waste – Miguel Jardine, Vermisoxx
  • Green Lifestyles – Terry Gellenbeck, City of Phoenix Public Works, Steve Priebe, City of Phoenix Street Transportation, Tishin Donkersley, AZ Green Living Magazine
  • Holiday Menu – Jesus Cibrian, Executive Chef of Aventura Cartering

Details:

Sustainability Forum at the Phoenix Convention Center
11 a.m. – 2 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010
West Building Arcade 100 N. Third Street

For more information call Michael Campos at (602) 534-6451

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Phoenix Design Week comes to Downtown next week

Phoenix Design Week is a weeklong conference and series of events scheduled from Sept. 29 to Oct. 3. Since this is an event all about the Phoenix design community, various galleries will be up throughout the week featuring the work of local designers – everything from graphic to interactive to logo, and even sculpture to name a few.

The weekend conference is being held at the Phoenix Convention Center in the heart of downtown Phoenix. National speakers include Hillman Curtis, Von Glitschka, James Victore, Paul Sahre, Mike Joosse and Brian Singer. To learn more about these amazing speakers, visit http://phxdw.com/speakers.

The panels, presentations, workshops and roundtable discussions held during the weekend conference are meant to bring together the design community in an unprecedented way.

Registration

A $125 Registration includes access to all exhibits, events, two-day conference and parties. (The conference alone contains over $800 worth of Adobe training workshops). It also includes a free copy of James Victore’s new book Victore or, Who Died and Made You Boss? (a $40 value), a 18”×24” PHXDW Poster and a swag bag full of sponsor goodies!

Register Here: http://phxdw2010.eventbrite.com

Other Opportunities

SPONSORSHIP

Opportunities to sponsor this community effort are still available! View more information regarding the levels of sponsorship or contact Russ Perry at russ@phxdw.com for details.

VOLUNTEERS

Design Week is run entirely by volunteers and we would love if you joined us! We will need help throughout the week, so if you can get involved, please contact Lonnie Tapia at lonnie@phxdw.com for details.

Contact:

Inquiries: info@phxdw.com

Web: http://www.phxdw.com

Twitter: @phxdc

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Public Art in Downtown Phoenix

Downtown Phoenix is often a pretty frustrating place for an urbanist like myself.  One of the things that offsets the negative urban aspects of our downtown core is its great public art.  Apparently, I’m not the only person to think so.

Earlier this summer, two public art pieces in downtown Phoenix topped Americans for the Arts‘ 2010 list of the 40 best public art works in the United States and Canada: the well-known Her Secret is Patience by Janet Echelman at the Civic Space Park and Habitat by Christy Ten Eyck and Judeen Terrey at the Phoenix Convention Center. A third Phoenix piece, Spirit of Inquiry at the University and Rural light rail station ASU  by Bill Will and Norie Sato,  is easily accessible from downtown Phoenix on light rail

"Her Secret Is Patience" (Source: Echelman.com)

The pieces were selected for Americans for the Arts’ 2010 Public Art Year in Review which recognizes 40 of the year’s best public art works in the United States and Canada.  This year’s selections consisted of projects from 29 cities in 15 states and provinces. The works were chosen from more than 300 entries from across Canada and the United States.  Phoenix and Houston were the only two cities to have three pieces recognized.  Five cities had two pieces selected.

"Habitat" (Source: azbigmedia.com)

Two independent public art experts—artists Helen Lessick and Fred Wilson—compiled the list, which reflects the most exemplary, innovative permanent or temporary public art works created or debuted in 2009.  This is the 10th year that Americans for the Arts, the nation’s leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts, has recognized public art works.

"Spirit of Inquiry" (Source: Valley Metro)

To learn more about public art in and around downtown Phoenix, check out this excelent post by Meghanne Bearden for the Phoenix Community Alliance.

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Make the Downtown Phoenix Convention Center Free?

I came across this interesting proposal on Downtown Phoenix Journal yesterday.  While it may sound far-fetched, creating a vibrant downtown core requires thinking outside the box.

[Source: Downtown Beat, Downtown Phoenix Journal]

Fill up the Convention Center during the summer!

Have you ever thought of hosting a big event but have nowhere to hold it? Well, Ben Bethel may have the answer. Bethel, owner and GM of The Clarendon Hotel, wants free rent in the Phoenix Convention Center from June 1 to September 30.

Yes, you can read that sentence again. FREE.

Bethel realizes that the Convention Center—capable of comfortably bringing 10,000 people to Downtown Phoenix—sits virtually empty four months out the year.

“By giving away the space, people will book flights, rent cars, stay in hotels, eat at restaurants, shop in local shops, visit museums, and take trips to Arizona’s many natural wonders also supporting small-town economies,” Bethel says. “And while they’re doing this, they’ll be paying airport taxes, rental car taxes, hotel taxes, and sales taxes—while keeping people employed who pay employment and income taxes—it’s a no-brainer.”

Want more information on this initiative? Contact Bethel for more information at BenBethel@GoClarendon.com, or call him at 602.252.9349.

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Downtown Phoenix 2.0?

[Source: Jon Talton, Rogue Columnist] — It’s surprising that some appear so sanguine about the likely foreclosure of most units at the 44 Monroe condo tower.  This, along with a similar fate for the Summit at Copper Square and 44’s developer Grace Communities failing to rehab the historic Valley National Bank building because of the Mortgages Ltd. fiasco, represents a devastating setback for luring private investment into downtown Phoenix.  Maybe people are too shell shocked to take it all in.  Maybe they’re willing to settle for things being better than they were 20 years ago, which is undeniably true.  Neither option is wise for those who wish the central city well.

Make no mistake: the Phoenix depression is metro-wide.  I saw rotting framing and miles of distressed subdivisions out in the exurbs.  Tempe foolishly threw away its opportunity to build a mid-rise boutique downtown of national quality — now it has an empty condo high-rise and Mill Avenue is swooning again.  But my conviction remains that there is no healthy major city without a strong urban downtown, and center city problems left unchecked have a habit of spreading.  (And don’t be taken in by the propaganda: Phoenix did have a vibrant downtown — it was killed by civic malpractice).

In Phoenix, the past few years have seen some notable triumphs: the beginnings of a downtown ASU campus, light rail, a convention center worthy of such a tourist-dependent city, a new convention hotel, and a blossoming of independently owned restaurants.  The biosciences campus has been planted (although it has been allowed to stall and, I fear, its future is uncertain).  Yet major private investment has not followed; 44 Monroe and the Summit represented the strongest chance for that within the existing local business model of “real estate first.”  The many towers proposed for the entire Central Corridor are now blighted empty lots.  CityScape?  I’ll believe it when I see it.  What I see is a homely suburban design, not the soaring “game changer” sold to the public on the front page of the newspaper.

The great recession, the great reset: Where will they leave downtown Phoenix and the Central Corridor?  It’s tough all over, now that a commercial real-estate crisis will follow the explosion of the residential and mortgage bubble.  Nationally, suburbs and exurbs are being hit harder than downtowns.  Suburban poverty is spreading.  The massive destruction of wealth and overhang of leverage make restarting the sprawl machine of old impossible.  Smart places, such as Denver, are trying to retrofit the suburbs for a higher energy future. Some suburbs themselves are working to provide walkable, mixed-use and even urbanish neighborhoods.

The headwinds in Phoenix are different.  Most people have blinkered suburban values — they can’t imagine a different life.  City Hall’s decisions to clear-cut hundreds of buildings and drive out businesses that catered to the working poor have left Phoenix without the bones that other cities have used to revive their cores.  The old headquarters companies were bought or dismembered and their successors often keep only token presences in downtown (imagine, for example, if Wells Fargo had built its operations center downtown instead of in Chandler).  And the limited economy leaves few non-real estate businesses anyway.  I could go on, but what can be done now, in the reset?  [Note: To read Jon’s recommendations, click on Downtown Phoenix 2.0?]

Viewpoint: Phoenix budget woes, big art, light rail made ’09 quite a year

[Source: Arizona Republic; section headers organized by yours truly] — With this being Christmas week, we figured you wouldn’t want to read a traditional editorial any more than we wanted to write one.  So today, we lighten things up a bit with awards for notable achievements in 2009.

Phoenix Overall

  • Story of the year: Phoenix did the virtually impossible this year — it cut $270 million from the general fund to balance the budget due to low sales-tax revenue.  Residents are feeling the effects with reduced hours or closures of swimming pools, libraries, and senior centers.  They also see more graffiti and potholes because staff is stretched so thin.  Now the city is talking about cutting an additional $100 million or so.  This story is getting old.
  • Best cheerleader: Mayor Phil Gordon earns this award again.  With frequent trips to Washington, D.C., to lobby for stimulus funds, and Janet Napolitano resigning as governor to lead Homeland Security, Gordon is the face of Arizona.
  • Embarrassment: Rep. Ray Barnes’ rambling reasons for voting to cut $144 million from public education.  Grab some eggnog and watch this Phoenix Republican go off.
  • Hot potato: The idea to raise the sales tax temporarily to generate revenue quickly.  Mayor Gordon suggested a community member take on his idea.  But no one wants to touch it.
  • Landmark: The city became the second in the state to offer a domestic-partner registry to gay or straight couples who share a Phoenix residence.  Among other privileges, the registry grants partners visitation rights in hospitals.
  • Pillar: City Manager Frank Fairbanks earns this award again.  He retired this year, but not before balancing the nastiest budget deficit in city history.  Thanks, Frank.

Downtown Focused/Strong Influence

  • Pushin’ on: Light rail has its fans and its foes.  But ridership is up and businesses have sprouted along the line.  The system is approaching it first anniversary.  We say light rail is on track.
  • Newcomer: Janet Echelman’s “Her Secret Is Patience” at the new Civic Space Park downtown opened to much criticism.  Meant to resemble a cactus bloom, the floating sculpture was called everything from a basketball hoop to a male contraceptive.  Not that we mind.  Some of the best artwork in the world drew heavy criticism.  We’re just glad people are noticing what downtown Phoenix has to offer.
  • Comeback: Phoenix Urban Market Grocery and Wine Bar at Central Avenue and Pierce Street is the first grocer to serve the area in 30 years.  It only carries the basics.  But milk, vegetables, bread, pasta and other staples are welcome.
  • Bragging rights: President Barack Obama made three visits to the Valley this year.  One of those was to the new Phoenix Convention Center, where Obama addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention.
  • Feather in the cap: A budding knowledge-based economy, parks and preservation efforts, and teen spaces at public libraries make Phoenix an All-America City.  Now it has the civic award to prove it.  This was Phoenix’s fifth win.  It would be a shame to lose these gains to budget cuts in the down economy.

Other Parts of Phoenix

  • Senseless act: A photo-enforcement-van driver was shot to death while deployed near Loop 101 in north Phoenix.  Thomas DeStories was indicted in connection with the shooting death of Douglas Georgianni.
  • Tallest story: Despite opposition from neighbors, the City Council approved a Mormon temple whose steeple and spire will rise 86 feet above the Deer Valley area.
  • Unsung hero: The Macehualli Day Labor Center in northeastern Phoenix provides a central location for day laborers and potential employers to negotiate business.  The center is for sale.

Viewpoint: A Desert Shade of Green?

[Source: Alec Appelbaum, The Faster Times blog] — The stubborn fact of urban investment in this century involves density.  We can forget about economic growth outstripping environmental cost if we don’t invest in ways to reward people for living, working and playing close together.  That can mean big opportunities for suburban office parks, rural town centers and old-style cities, but it also means some awkward transitions for cities whose layout relies on excessive driving.  Consider downtown Phoenix.

I just went there for the annual expo of the US Green Building Council, which I suspect chose the locale as a Lenin-shipyard proclamation of their message’s reach.  And downtown Phoenix is a warren of womblike hotels and a massive conference center, with artificial efforts at urbane charm.  This includes a greeter simpering scoldingly at me when I run across the street, homeless men on aluminum benches, and a prerecorded voice telling me to “enjoy the greening of downtown Phoenix.”  The simperer reveals how underpopulated downtown remains, and the homeless hint at how underfunded the social network remains.  But the salient thing is that powerful somebodies want downtown Phoenix to not be horrible.

Yes, there are posted instructions on how to cross a street and security guards at the convention hall say I won’t find a bathing suit at the downtown mall.  But I do find one, and there are sidewalks, and the womblike hotels have balconies overlooking actual blocks and streets.  On day two of my visit, I started to get the trendline.  I saw the new light rail glide past the four old buildings, the “clean cab” company rolls around.  But standing on the Sheraton balcony, I saw again that there’s no waterline or mountains to define the horizon.  Without barriers to physical growth on all sides, it will take natural disaster or political will to make places like Phoenix develop strong centers.  Nature will provide the disasters.  Then what?

We’ll have to see whether trends in urbanizing lead to scalable industries.  It dawned on me late on my 24-hr sojourn that the Compass restaurant on 21 (”turning the direction of SW cuisine,” say elevator ads) is a rotating rooftop.  Forty years ago, these were as thorough an urban inevitable as a downtown ballpark is now.  And as I passed Phoenix’s massive and retroish Chase Field, I wondered naifishly: when people need affordable housing and good jobs, why is there enough room downtown for a fat square brick ballpark?  The riddle’s solution involves homes, business incentives for clean manufacturing, and policies that monetize the pleasures of close proximity.  Each city in America will need to work up its own formula.  As I flew home to New York in a November hurricane, I couldn’t quite rouse that old Northeastern smugness.  And that’s a hopeful sign.