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City's $200,000 sign plan: Yes, no and maybe

Defeated 'Legacy' proposal still has a chance if changes are made

Friday, November 1, 2013 - 12:01 am

As president and CEO of Visit Fort Wayne, one of the complaints Dan O'Connell hears most often is the lack of signs directing out-of-towners to various attractions.

So when City Council on Oct. 22 rejected Mayor Tom Henry's plan to spend $200,000 on 54 “wayfinding” signs to be placed throughout the community – after approving it earlier in the month – O'Connell followed the adage and asked the administration and council to try, try again.

“There's a definite need. If you want people to visit your attractions, you need signs,” said O'Connell, who sent a letter to council members this week asking them to reconsider their vote.

Some members say they will do just that – if some changes are made.

“Just like cleanliness, safety, traffic and hospitality, a good sign system is critical to helping visitors. It also conveys our city is welcoming and (that) we appreciate their business,” O'Connell wrote. “The City did an outstanding job to provide good identifying signs for downtown attractions. Now it's time to finish the job for the Children's Zoo, the new Lutheran Health Sports Center and SportOne Parkview Fieldhouse, the Memorial Coliseum,Science Central, Spiece Fieldhouse and Hefner Fields at IPFW.

“Every year visitors spend over $500 million in Fort Wayne. They deserve a better sign system, and so do we if we want to be a destination city.”

The majority of council members apparently agreed Oct. 1 when they tentatively endorsed the signage proposal by a 6-3 vote. Three weeks later, however, two members – John Crawford, R-at large and John Shoaff, D-at large – changed their minds and voted “no,” sending the plan to a 5-4 defeat.

“I listen to my colleagues, and Crawford does the same,” said Shoaff, adding that questions about cost, use of electronic navigation devices and other issues caused him to seek a delay. “I'm favorable by and large, but it's not

an urgent thing and it's important to do it right,” he added.

Although O'Connell said GPS systems and other electronic devices are no substitute for signs, which he noted are also helpful to pedestrians, O'Connell is sympathetic to a point raised by Mitch Harper, R-4th, and Russ Jehl, R-3rd: Companies that benefit from the signs should help pay for them. The Indiana Department of Transportation already has such a policy, Harper noted.

If a plan can be developed through which companies pay even a “nominal” amount for their inclusion in the signs, Jehl said, he'll likely support it.

O'Connell noted that some cities pay for such signs themselves, and that the Legacy fund – the $75 million account created by the sale of Fort Wayne's electric utility – allows the same approach here. But use of Legacy money requires six council votes, meaning at least two “no” votes will have to change their minds.

If public-private cost-sharing will accomplish that, O'Connell said, he'll support it. The scope could also be pared back if necessary, reducing the $200,000 cost, he said.

“We'll take a look at financial contributions, but the purpose of the wayfinding system is not to advertise for individual organizations but to welcome visitors and help them navigate our community,” said city spokesman John Perlich. “We'll be working with council to get a better understanding of the questions and concerns that have been raised.”