City to use signage to improve visitor experience, boost local businesses

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Old Town Sherwood features a recent way finding sign program that ties the citys historic downtown area together using a coordinated theme, colors and more. Now the city of Wilsonville is preparing to explore a similar plan. Wilsonville city councilors would like to see the city pursue a vigorous new program of themed signage that would further establish the city’s identity while also providing practical navigation aids.

Known broadly as “way finding,” such signage can help stamp a consistent identity across an entire city while simultaneously improving traffic and guiding people toward key attractions.

“The intent of the project is really to embrace the community’s identity and celebrate the community’s identity,” Planning Director Chris Neamtzu told councilors at a March 3 work session.

Wilsonville Planning Commissioner Ben Altman brought the issue before the council Jan. 23, whereupon councilors directed city staff to prepare further information about way finding for consideration. Neamtzu did just that at last Monday’s work session, explaining that typical way finding signage often includes a community-created thematic look.

Specifics such as color palettes, fonts, logos, graphics, materials, architectural designs and other identifying features such as street furniture and lighting that support and complement the identity of a community all are decided upon through public involvement.

“We have a lot of room for improvement in our way finding,” said Councilor Julie Fitzgerald. “I’d really like to see something that gets people to businesses more easily instead of by accident. And there’s a great opportunity to get more people to take advantage of biking and walking opportunities.”

The concept is based around crafting an enjoyable visitor experience, Neamtzu said. As people enter the city, they need to be able to orient and find specific destinations. Accordingly, way finding signs need to effectively address different groups of people, including motor vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Blue is the color of Old Town Sherwood. Everything from the benches, utility poles and garbage cans are painted royal blue in this historic district. Wilsonville is currently preparing to examine a similar plan.  Neamtzu said the city would need to hire a consulting team to work with city staff on the initial stages of any way finding program. More importantly, he added, before doing so the city should first allow its tourism strategy task force and strategic branding program to wrap up before proceeding. This would allow the way finding project to use the results of both in a final work plan that would take an estimated four to six months to carry out.

“I do like the idea of a more comprehensive way finding strategy,” said Councilor Richard Goddard. “Although I would rather not come up with a program where it looks like we had eight different people in eight different rooms all working on the same thing.”

Councilor Susie Stevens agreed with Goddard and said she wants any resulting sign program to avoid clutter.

“We don’t want to end up like 82nd Avenue,” said City Manager Bryan Cosgrove.

“That’s right,” Stevens said.

The Wilsonville Area Chamber of Commerce also supports a renewed way finding effort, saying it would greatly benefit local businesses by helping guide visitors and locals alike to the locations they are looking for.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Bike stands, rubbish bins, street signs, light poles and more; theyre all blue in downtown Sherwood, part of the citys way finding program.On March 3, chamber Vice President Eric Postma told the council the organization would like to work with the city on any resulting program, provided there is enough common ground to do so.

“We don’t look at it like it’s one or two of our members who want way finding changes,” Postma said. “It’s multiple members.”

Even some local industrial businesses, he said, are interested in the concept.

“Realistically, we agree with many of the things you have to say,” Postma said.

The chamber also is looking to use grant funding and transient room tax revenue to potentially partner with the city in other ways that would benefit tourism.

Postma presented a formal letter to the council listing specific areas where the group states this might be possible. They include promotion of the popular series of equestrian shows at Hunter Creek Farm, backing for visitor kiosks maintained by the chamber, promotion of the World of Speed motor sports museum and backing for an economic impact or feasibility study for a multipurpose, year-round equestrian facility in Wilsonville.

“The goal, with regard to the transient room tax, is to bring people from outside of 50 miles away to stay in Wilsonville,” Postma said. “That’s what our goal is, and there are some things we can maybe do to help meet that goal. But one of the things we’re concerned about is, we have ideas, but whether or not they become reality is dependent on whether or not we have a partner with the city.”

Going forward, the council will again address the issue formally at an upcoming council meeting. In addition, the process of identifying members for a community task force to address key way finding issues will get underway.

“Finding consensus is really important,” Neamtzu said. “I imagine a bigger community activity around the branding, and then a more focused group to provide a cohesive path to the signage.”

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