For years, Baltimore drivers couldn’t take their eyes off it.
The Pepsi sign that towered over a curvy, crash-prone stretch of Interstate 83 near Hampden has finally been replaced. Crews this week dismantled the tatters of the aging soda company’s logo and have begun installing an orange and black “Plant 83″ sign, which property owner Himmelrich Associates said is the new name for the 14-acre industrial complex on which it sits.
As of Thursday morning, only the side of the sign facing southbound traffic had been replaced.
Emily Urban, the developer’s leasing director, said the sign is the first step in rebranding the warehouse complex, which first opened as a Pepsi bottling plant in 1937.
“We really wanted to maintain the integrity and character of the building,” Urban said. Staff weighed whether to keep the original Pepsi image and played around with different names. Eventually, Himmelrich settled on “Plant 83″ to reference the building’s history and nod to the proximity of I-83.
“People will hopefully understand,” Urban said.
Gone are the days when the red, white and blue soda brand stood as a grim landmark for Baltimore city officials, police and journalists tracking traffic incidents. Transportation officials often referred to the Pepsi sign as a familiar shorthand for the location of a crash.
In recent years, the sign inspired dark humor among city residents along with parody Twitter accounts that spouted treacly taunts at motorists. One of the accounts lamented that the new Plant 83 design resembles the logo for Gulf gas stations. (Or maybe it’s more like an earlier iteration of the logo for Japanese automaker Nissan.)
The logo had loomed high above the Jones Falls Expressway since 1969, when the property at 1650 Union Ave. was still a Pepsi bottling plant. In recent years, the soft drink signage had lost some of its pop and fallen into significant disrepair.
Himmelrich has already leased about one-third of the warehouse space inside of the mixed-use development to building materials supplier Tate Inc., which is returning to Baltimore after operating for a time in Jessup. Urban said the developer hopes to use the building as flex space and attract retail operations.
Attentive drivers passing through the heart of Baltimore may not immediately notice the new “Plant 83″ logo, which fits neatly into the Pepsi sign’s original footprint. But history suggests it’s only a matter of time before they lift their gaze again.