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Not a sign of the times: Familiar Edmonds welcome sign must go

 

Last updated 7/19/2018 at Noon

The wooden welcome sign on SR 104 is showing the wear of more than 35 years of exposure to the elements.

Edmonds is creaking toward modernity, pushing up boxy apartments, updating old buildings and opening trendy restaurants at a decent clip.

But, as demonstrated last month, you don’t mess with building heights in the downtown core by the fountain. Many residents protested, and the council dismissed the idea.

Now you can add the so-called gateway sign on SR 104 welcoming residents and visitors into town, the one on the west side of the grassy “Y” split that leads into Fifth Avenue South and downtown.

You know the one: It reads “Welcome to Downtown Edmonds.”

It’s a pretty sign that shows the ferry, a ferry landing aide (called a “dolphin”), as well as the blue Puget Sound, Kitsap Peninsula and Olympic Mountains. It used to have a small sign below it reading “Edmonds Centennial: 1890-1990,” but that’s long gone.

But the main wooden sign, in place since the late 1970s, is crumbling, and the City of Edmonds has had its replace in mind for some time.

But the proposed design, as presented in detail at Tuesday’s City Council meeting by Cultural Services Manager Frances Chapin and Parks and Recreation Director Carrie Hite, was not greeted warmly by the majority of councilmembers.

So instead of moving ahead on the new sign, Hite and Chapin said they would bring back new designs and involve public input, possibly through an open house.

The proposed sign itself? It reads, simply, “Downtown Edmonds” in white lettering against a rectangular, blue backdrop made of sturdy corten steel.

It’s designed with wavelike curves, like other city directional signs, and is meant to show the horizon while reflecting Edmonds’ reputation as a cultural hub, and referencing connections to the waterfront.

Solar-powered LED lights would be used to keep it visible at night.

It would be anchored in place by two blocks dug into the ground, surrounded by landscaping. The cost? $40k.

Three citizens spoke out against the proposed sign.

A disappointed Roger Pence said it did not reflect Edmonds’ warm and inviting atmosphere. “It’s would be more at home at a corporate office,” he said.

Mack Benek, well-known around town for his temporary artwork on downtown business windows and walls, said he’d be willing to help design a new sign. “I’d like something welcoming, whether I do it or someone else.”

Mike McMurray, an Edmonds financial adviser who is developing Edmonds Common at Main Street and Sixth Avenue North, was more pointed, saying a more appealing sign is needed, as well as public input.

McMurray had exchanged emails with city staff, especially Chapin, who invited McMurray to a face-to-face meeting. McMurray said the existing sign is nostalgic and creative, with character, and that the proposed one is “too basic and not very inspiring.”

On the other hand, Tracy Felix, who owns ARTspot on Main Street and is president of the Downtown Edmonds Merchants Association, voiced support for the proposed sign.

“Although (Mike’s) points are well made to preserve the nostalgic and creative aspect of our downtown, the signage program has been designed and implemented throughout Edmonds. It is established. The signage precedent has been set,” Felix said.

“To change the look of our wayfinding signage midstream would be to undo all the design work that has already gone through many discussions and approval steps. It would lose continuity, and waste many staff hours of rehashing what has already been discussed.”

After Tuesday’s meeting, McMurray said he was pleased with the council’s decision to rethink the proposed sign.

Sign part of a plan

The proposed sign was the result of considerable study and adoption by a committee that included the Economic Development Committee, Planning Board and Arts Commission.

Hite, noting that people in Edmonds are passionate about signs, said that in 2006 a streetscape plan update was created to address what she called public concern about a “hodgepodge” of signs around town.

The intent was to bring some consistency to gateway signs – which the “Welcome to Downtown Edmonds” sign is – and for directional signs, such as those identifying the downtown and Westgate neighborhoods and those providing directions to locations around town.

Some elements of the updated city design already in use include the wave pattern and the color blue.

Clayton Moss, of the Edmonds-based environmental graphics company Firma, designed the downtown and Westgate directional signs, as well as the proposed gateway sign.

The proposed sites for gateway/entry wayfinding signage and recommendations for replacements were listed in the city’s 2013 strategic plan, and the city made the wooden gateway sign a priority for replacement.

The funding for design and fabrication was originally approved in 2016 and is part of the 2018 budget. The Parks Public Works City Council Committee presented the design on July 10, and the committee forwarded it for approval this week.

But that, of course, is on hold now.

Moss wanted the public to know why he created the proposed sign as he did.

“A good designer does not design to his or her personal taste, or preferences,” he said. My role as a designer on this wayfinding sign project was, at its core for me, similar to every project I work on, which is to say that I listen to my client’s goals and create a design that communicates their message to their intended audience.

“The design objective here was to create a design that would be consistent with the city’s established wayfinding sign program, paying particular attention to legibility, durability, cost, construction, aesthetics and maintenance details, as well as integration within the landscape.

“This city sign design is modern and in keeping with its design criterion. However, I have designed a number of other signs that are more traditional that Edmonds residents may be familiar with – Hazel Miller Plaza, Dayton Street Plaza, Chanterelle and signage for the Edmonds Historical Museum, to name a few. These signs, too, are the outcome of working with the different clients to accomplish their goals.”

Chapin noted that, no matter what the sign ends up looking like, it is on Washington State Department of Transportation right of way, which means the City had to work with WSDOT on the design.

The department made it clear that the sign has to be easy to read and not a distraction, which may account somewhat for the proposed sign’s simplicity. The sign also would be moved slightly east so it would be visible both to those heading downtown and those traveling to the waterfront and the ferry.

There was some public concern about the proposed sign’s cost, but Hite said that cost includes design, fabrication, installation and landscaping. In addition, WSDOT gets a portion of that for its consulting.

“When you break those things down, $40,000 is more reasonable than people might think than just paying for a sign,” Hite said.

Council opinions

On Tuesday, both Councilmembers Neil Tibbot and Dave Teitzel (“This is change, and change is hard”) said they approved of the sign, but they were in the minority.

The proposed sign in Edmonds, now going back to the drawing board.

Council President Mike Nelson was concerned about the cost, and said there needs to be more community involvement. He also expressed concern about WSDOT having a say in the design.

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said she didn’t mind the sign’s minimalistic aspect, but added that it needed more flourish. “The problem I have is that it does not look like a wave. And if that’s the horizon, I must be drunk.”

Councilmember Teitzel said $40,000 was reasonable, but agreed with Councilmember Kristiana Johnson that the City needed to step back, work on more designs, and gather public input. Johnson mentioned that the old sign could eventually be donated to the Edmonds Historical Museum.

Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas wondered if the city could erect another wooden sign.

 

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