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Long-awaited Wayfinding Project to install new welcome signs this week

  • One of the new welcome/gateway signs that will soon arrive in Charles City as part of the Wayfinding Project to place signage around town. Photo submitted

  • This graphic shows what the new Charles City welcome signs will look like. The signs are expected to be installed beginning soon. Photo submitted

By Kelly Terpstra,

A path to a promising future and a road map to find your way.

That’s what community leaders are hoping the Wayfinding Project will accomplish in Charles City starting this week.

Residents and visitors will be directed by signs and lots of them.

Years of work, input and feedback will finally pay off as construction will begin on a $157,000 project that features placing four welcome signs near access points to Charles City.

“We’re trying to do the best thing for the community that sends a consistent message, that’s cost effective and really keeps Charles City moving forward,” said City Administrator Steve Diers. “It’s been a topic of conversation for at least 10 years.”

Three information kiosks will be placed strategically around the city as well as vehicular guide signs along highways and streets in town. Parking lot identification, municipal park and building identification signs will also be installed.

“We have a lot of public lots, but really none of them are marked,” said City Engineer John Fallis.

Signs and More, a company from Independence, was $80,000 cheaper than the next lowest bid out of the six contractors that submitted bids on the signage project.

“It was an excellent bid,” said Fallis. “Once they’re in place, people will really like them,” he said about the signs

That cost savings turned what was initially thought of as a phased project into a job that should be done before winter.

“We’ve been working on this so long and the price is so good, let’s try and do this all in one shot. So that’s what we’re doing,” said Diers.

The four new welcome signs will replace the three current raised redwood signs that are located on Highway 14 near Zoetis, on South Grand near the Cedar Valley Transportation Center and by Maple Heights.

A fourth sign was taken down on Highway 18 years ago after the airport changed its name. A new welcome sign will be placed out on Highway 18 across from Machine Tool Engineering heading into town from the east.

The old signs are not aging well.

“They’re coming up on close to 25 years old,” Diers said. “They’re made of redwood. They’re starting to age. They have woodpecker holes. When they took the signs down as part of the replacement project, a lot of the boards broke just because they’re aged out and brittle.”

Mark Wicks, community development director, said an effort was made to refurbish, repaint and repair the signs, but the cost was prohibitive.

“It was going to cost us a ridiculous amount of money to do that,” said Wicks.

Diers said the company that made the signs is no longer in business and redwood is hard to find when constructing signs nowadays.

“The old signs were awesome. They were beautiful. Unfortunately they were too far gone to save,” said Diers. “They were designed to last 10 to 15 years and here we are in year 23.”

“Several of the signs you can actually look through if you look close enough. They don’t look so bad when you’re driving by at 50 miles an hour,” said Wicks.

The rustic signs read “America’s Hometown” – a slogan created as part of a community-wide promotion in the 1980s, according to Wicks.

“For a lot of people, Charles City is “America’s Hometown.” It’s a great slogan and it can be argued it still is. It’s just not something that’s unique to Charles City. It’s not really descriptive,” said Wicks regarding the decision to not use the slogan on the new signs.

“The problem is, if you ask 100 people, 50 like it and 50 don’t. There’s no consensus,” said Wicks. “Because of that we went with more of a generic logo.”

Wicks said there are at least 47 or 48 other cities in the United States that officially called themselves “America’s Hometown,” including Boston and Hannibal, Missouri.

Wicks help spearhead the implementation and construction of those original redwood signs.

He also had a hand in choosing the new welcome/gateway signs, which are aluminum and feature Charles City’s new suspension bridge in its blue, orange and green city logo. The sign will read “Charles City welcomes you!” with a navy blue background behind the white lettering. There is a gray cog that surrounds the logo. The logo will appear on all signs and kiosks.

“It’s something people take notice and we realize it’s very important,” said Diers. “You’re starting to see it show up on city vehicles and different city products – trying to have that uniform message.”

Diers said the cog “speaks to Charles City’s manufacturing history – present and future.”

The iconic orange image of the bridge comprises a large portion of the logo. The blue underneath the bridge represents the Cedar River and Whitewater Park. The color green at the bottom of the logo signifies city initiatives to help conserve energy and recycle.

Diers said while “America’s Hometown” won’t be featured on the new welcome signs, there are other possibilities as far as what can go up on the sign, such as the dates the city was established or incorporated.

“We haven’t changed that motto. It’s not on the signs currently. That’s the cool thing about the new signs, is that they’re aluminum signs. They have vinyl coating which makes up the sign. So as we want to modify and change that, if and when we want to do down the road, we can do that without having to change out the whole sign,” said Diers.

Corbin Design of Michigan created the logo. It was reviewed and changed after passing through two committees – a wayfinding and design team. City elected officials, city staff, Main Street Iowa members and the Charles City School District were several of the other groups that had a say in the creation of Charles City’s new signage makeover.

“You can’t take it out in front of too many people because you’ll get 110 opinions,” said Wicks, about the process to whittle down what the signs and logo would like.

The Wayfinding Project was listed as one of Charles City’s top priorities during its goal setting sessions in 2016.

“We just kept reviewing it, reviewing it and reviewing it – changing things around to where we ultimately ended up with what we have,” said Diers. “It took a long time to get to that.”

Three signs will be put up on the shoulder of the road on the Avenue of the Saints directing traffic to the visitor’s center, which will be built at the Chamber of Commerce building downtown upon City Council approval. The information/welcome center is part of remodeling project at the Chamber.

Diers said state laws prohibit highway signs directing traffic to such places as city hall or chamber offices, but visitor centers are allowed.

“Part of the whole wayfinding effort is to develop that continuity,” Diers said. “It’s all part of a streamlined strategy.”

The information kiosks will be located at Central Park and on the corner of Main and Clark. The last kiosk will be set up by Victory Park near North Illinois Street.

Diers also said that the Iowa Department of Transportation will place and construct many of the roadway signs at no cost to the city.

Diers said the city is in the process of trying to trademark the new logo.

“As far as we know, we’re the only ones that have that design,” he said.