Antique Coca-Cola sign in heart of downtown Baton Rouge to be relighted again under deal mediated by BRAF _lowres

Advocate staff photo by Rebekah Allen -- An uncovered Coca-Cola sign sits above the Raising Cane's restaurant in downtown Baton Rouge on Tuesday afternoon, May 27, 2014.

A dispute that has lasted more than a year over ownership of a massive, antique Coca-Cola sign that overlooks the heart of downtown Baton Rouge has ended, so it’s only a matter of time until the last-of-its-kind sign will be illuminated again for Third Street patrons to enjoy.

The sign, which is more than 50 years old, sits atop a building at the corner of Third Street and Florida Boulevard that houses a Raising Cane’s. In May 2014, the sign went dark when building owner Mike Crouch demanded to be compensated for insurance and maintenance costs for the sign in the form of ad space revenue.

However, Coca-Cola representatives said the sign was owned by the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge and that the two parties worked together to maintain the integrity of the relic.

Baton Rouge Area Foundation Executive Vice President John Spain said Tuesday that BRAF helped mediate the ownership dispute and as a result has agreed to take ownership of the sign.

Coca-Cola will continue maintaining the sign, and Entergy is covering the electrical costs.

At some point, the neon sign will require a substantial financial investment to change the technology to keep it lighted because maintenance for neon signs will become increasingly difficult. BRAF will be responsible for raising the funds to make that change.

“We’re pleased to say that all of the parties were anxious to find a solution,” Spain said.

Coca-Cola has been testing the sign in recent days, turning it on to ensure it’s still in working order. Spain said once it’s checked out, the sign officially will be turned on permanently.

Initially, when Crouch turned off the sign last year, he also shrouded it in a tarp. There was immediate outcry from the public, and he subsequently removed the tarp. But the sign hasn’t been relighted except for a few events.

Downtown advocates have said the sign is less of an advertisement than it is a monument for the storied downtown area. It was initially put up in the 1950s when the building was a drugstore.

Coca-Cola representatives said at the time that the sign was the last original version of its kind and was at risk of being damaged by Crouch’s tarp.

The building was previously owned by Elvin and Joycelynn Richoux, who owned Richoux’s Restaurant. The Richouxes 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.

Crouch claimed ownership of the sign, despite paperwork that detailed the “act of donation” of the sign to the nonprofit.

Crouch’s attorney James Clary Jr. could not immediately be reached for comment.

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