Carving out an identity
City OK’s $470k for wayfinding signs
By Chad Abshire
RAWLINS — Pam Thayer closed her eyes, tilted her head back and fist pumped Tuesday night with a single, excited word.
“Yay,” with the “a” sound held for a bit, was perhaps the only fitting response from the Rawlins DDA/Main Street executive director after Rawlins City Council approved a $471,671.10 wayfinding project.
“This has been an exciting process,” Thayer told the Council during its meeting Tuesday night. “Two words come to mind: ‘cha-ching, cha-ching,’ and two is ‘ah, beauty.’”
Eighty-two signs will be erected up and around the City of Rawlins paid through a grant “written years ago,” Thayer said, “to spur economic development and tourism — getting people our fair city — and for enhancement.”
The bid was awarded to Mills-based Wyoming Signs after the city decided to rebid the project after the first round came back a bit too high — between $650,000 to upwards of $2 million.
Funded through a Wyoming Business Council grant, the project had its scope reduced by removing nine signs for local parks, but managed to keep others like directional, pedestrian, vehicular, kiosk and destination signs.
Of the 82, 58 signs are aimed at helping visitors driving though Rawlins navigate their way.
“It’s encompassing with our branding, and our tourism,” Thayer said, adding that it focuses on people coming in from all four directions.
While that project passed easily with a unanimous 6-0 vote with Councilman Jim Wells absent, a second, related project had a harder time.
Interim City Manager Scott Hannum couldn’t sell Vice Mayor Steve Nicholson on installing new entry signs on the east end of the city, as well as new signs on the north and west sides of Rawlins.
The Council ultimately approved the roughly $100,000 expenditure in a 5-1 vote. The cost in getting an entry sign on the east end Cedar Frontage Road area will cost $32,303.66 out of around $45,000 remaining in landscaping funds from the Cedar Street Frontage Project.
Erecting new signs to fit the same theme and design as the wayfinding signs on the north and west ends of Rawlins cost $64,407.33 from sales tax disbursement that, because of it being mistakenly given to another municipality, was seen as funds to be used as a one-time expenditure, Hannum said.
The current entry signs, “while nice at the time,” Hannum said, “seem dated and people were wanting to change those.”
“With wayfinding proceeding, we’re excited and staff feels that will be a huge benefit, but not improving the entry signs would be a travesty to the whole system,” he said.
“How nice would it be to have one of those signs on the east end of town? So that when they stop at that first stoplight, they actually see where they’re at. They see that they’re in the city of Rawlins,” he said.
Hannum said it would also “provide ownership to citizens who live here.”
“We see this sign and have some pride and ownership in our community,” he said.
Seeing a poor-looking entry sign “reflects on all of us,” Hannum said.
“We’re working diligently to change our image and make this a better place,” he said.
Hannum said new entry signs, along with wayfinding signs, would “make a huge change in routing people into the community.”
“Maybe that develops into people taking care of their own property when they see the city, even in these economic times, making an investment in the community to make it a better place to live,” he said.
Nicholson said while the current entry signs “may not be what we’re looking for with our wayfinding signs,” simply getting rid of them was “throwing good money away.”
Hannum said city staff would look into repurposing the signs and moving them elsewhere, perhaps to the south side of Rawlins, but was unsure if they were easily movable.
“If you’d asked me 16 months ago, I’d have agreed one hundred percent,” Hannum said.
But Hannum said being city manager for that long had “enabled” him to hear perspectives from economic development, tourism and the Wyoming Business Council about the importance of “branding.”
“The reoccurring theme in tourism and economic development is to try to get that brand — so that when they see the color and designs, they see its Rawlins,” he said.
Councilwoman Linda Smith agreed, saying she believed the current entry signs could be moved.
“When you get into community development, you need to create sense of place,” she said. “This is just a little part of that whole picture that you buy into when you start rehabbing our community.”
Smith said she “always felt that Rawlins missed the boat a little bit when we have a civil war hero that we don’t use more of,” referring to Gen. John Aaron Rawlins, whom the city is named for.
“The whole community is wanting us to do clean up and redo as much as we can with the limited funds we have,” she said. “I wholeheartedly support this.”