Tourists visiting this city on Florida’s west coast typically use Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, a six-lane commercial thoroughfare, to reach Clearwater’s most famous destination, its sugar-sand beach. The street’s purpose is clear: to funnel traffic to the beach and to serve tourists’ and residents’ needs for hotels, restaurants, gas stations and stores.

Thirty years ago, it was no scenic gateway. Big on-premise business signs as well as billboards – 49 of them along a four-mile stretch – dominated the skyline. Portable signs with flashing lights and misspelled words flashed messages at motorists. And there was virtually nothing green to soften barren expanses of asphalt.

Today, though, visitors gazing down Gulf-to-Bay see a much-improved vista. The skyline features oak trees and palms, with comparatively unobtrusive business signs below them. And this fall[2015], 30 years after the city passed a sign ordinance so tough that it affected virtually every business property in the city and led to years-long legal battles, the last of those 49 billboards finally will [did] come down.

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