Downtown Merchants Group gets first glimpse of proposed wayfinding signs

Members of Tacoma’s Downtown Merchants Group yesterday viewed the latest version of a four-year-old project aimed to create wayfinding signs throughout the center city.

As currently proposed, 70 signs would be mounted onto red poles measuring 12 feet tall and five feet wide, and crowned with a cursive “I” to draw visitors in search of information. Signs near Interstate off-ramps would direct visitors to the city’s designated districts and, within those districts, further direct visitors to destinations such as museums, theaters, City Hall, and places to park.

During yesterday’s meeting, many members were enthusiastic about the signs, but concerned over the price tag — namely, $2 million for the nearly six-dozen signs. Carly Steadman of the Tacoma Regional Convention & Visitor Bureau told members she liked the idea, but echoed others’ cooncerns. “You’ve got the luxury edition,” she said, referring to the full-color, elaborate designs. She feared the signs would not receive support, and wondered if a less expensive alternative could be considered.

Spencer Beier, a staffer in the City’s Public Works Department, agreed the proposal is a ‘Cadillac version.’

“I don’t know where funding would come from,” said Beier. He said the issue would ultimately reach City Council, which would have a final decision on the signs and their funding source.

The signs are part of an effort by City staff that dates back to 2003. At the time, the city hired Seattle consulting firm Maestri Design, Inc. to make recommendations for improving downtown retail. One recommendation called for “rational signage.” According to Maestri president Paula Rees, the city’s signs confused visitors and were considered an “eyesore.”

“The difference between getting it and not getting it is going to be your contact with councilmembers,” said Paul Ellis, director for metropolitan development at Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber. “If you think it’s a good idea, make sure you lobby them.”