Our View: New signs for the times | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: New signs for the times

Although the economic crisis alone is not significant reason to allow or encourage deviation from Steamboat Springs’ sign code, it is bringing to light potential shortfalls in existing downtown signage and the code itself.

We’re encouraged by the efforts of some downtown business owners and city planning staff to improve wayfinding in our historic shopping district through long-term solutions. Compromising on short-term solutions may be a tougher battle.

Late last week, several downtown business owners met with city code officers and planning officials to express their concern that their businesses could fail if the city doesn’t provide some leniency with sign codes. Specifically, the business owners – whose stores are off Lincoln Avenue – wanted permission to use sandwich boards and banners to attract more potential customers. The sign code prohibits sandwich boards and easel signs in the downtown shopping district, and several code restrictions make banners a very temporary solution.

City planning officials correctly steered the business owners away from sandwich boards, which often are unattractive and a clutter on downtown sidewalks. Instead, Mark Scully, of Green Courte Partners, suggested a temporary solution of street-corner signs that would serve as directories for side-street businesses. Such signs would deviate from what’s permitted in the code.

Senior city planner Jonathan Spence said such signs would be directory, not commercial, in nature. Nonetheless, they’re likely to raise the ire of business owners whose shops have Lincoln Avenue storefronts. Those businesses pay higher rents for their premium locations and may not be amenable to signs pointing potential customers in other directions.

That’s a defensible position, but we believe it’s in the best interest of the entire downtown shopping district to create a vibrant scene that encourages pedestrians to venture beyond Lincoln Avenue.

And that’s why a potential long-term wayfinding plan for downtown Steamboat Springs makes sense. Unfortunately, wayfinding was excluded from a $439,000 downtown streetscape improvement plan performed by Britina Design Group. But Mainstreet Steamboat Springs and city planning officials are looking at successful wayfinding plans enacted in resort communities such as Moab, Utah, as a blueprint for what could be put in place in Steamboat. Modeling new programs off the successful ventures of similar cities is a smart move, and just as we need and are getting better signage at the base area, so too it is needed in our downtown shopping district. Pointing visitors in the direction of shops, historical sights and public buildings and monuments is a good thing.

Moab uses triangular signs on its street corners. The signs include maps and area information. They’re useful to visitors and help the city and its businesses direct visitors to shops, restaurants and other significant sights. Future changes to the downtown stretch of Lincoln Avenue – specifically the sidewalk bump-outs planned for street corners – will provide the extra space needed for such signage.

The city, in partnership with the business community, should strongly consider what changes might be needed to the sign code to effect positive, long-term change in downtown wayfinding. Doing so makes sense for all downtown businesses, not just those located off Lincoln Avenue.

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