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'A blatant restriction on free speech': Goldwater Institute files lawsuit over Phoenix's Super Bowl 'clean zone'

A downtown business owner is fighting the City of Phoenix's "clean zone," which restricts signage during the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.

PHOENIX — Are you planning to capitalize on the big crowds heading to the Valley for the upcoming Super Bowl with marketing or advertising? If you want to do it in downtown Phoenix, you're going to have to ask the NFL for permission first.

The City of Phoenix has approved implementing a "Clean Zone" from Jan. 15 through Feb. 19, meaning those who live within the designated zone need to remove any existing temporary signage and cannot put any signage up unless they get specific approval from the City of Phoenix and the NFL.

Credit: City of Phoenix

The policy has received backlash from critics, arguing it is a violation of free speech.

“Certainly, this is a huge financial opportunity. The question is who's an opportunity for?” said John Thorpe, an attorney with the Goldwater Institute.

Thorpe said the city is squashing Super Bowl opportunities for business owners downtown, including his client Bramley Paulin.

On January 11, the Goldwater Institute filed a lawsuit against the city over the "unconstitutional mandate."

“The idea is they want to protect the NFL and its sponsors from competition," Thorpe said. "They've also come out and said that they don't want any messages that are disfavorable to the NFL.”

Paulin owns property downtown and was planning to capitalize on the big crowds and lease out land to advertisers.

“It's a blatant restriction on free speech," Thorpe said. "It's also a delegation of government power to private corporations.”

The city declined 12News' request for an interview but in an email, spokesperson Dan Wilson said "clean zones" are common around big events like the Super Bowl and are an expectation of host cities. 

"They protect event organizers and their sponsors against ambush marketing tactics and ensure attendees are not confronted with counterfeit products," Wilson said. “The City is working closely with local businesses to provide them information and assistance surrounding the opportunities presented by the increased number of people in the downtown area.”

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