A slide from the Wayfinding presentation to the city

ITHACA, N.Y. — A proposal to spend up to an estimated $150,000 of the city of Ithaca’s budget on new signs around the county was voted down at a City Hall meeting Wednesday night.

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“Maybe this isn’t the best analogy, but when you don’t need a Cadillac and someone says they can get it to you for 30 percent off, you still don’t need a Cadillac,” said George McGonigal, a Common Council member. “… This number is just way out of bounds; to me, I cant support this at all.”

Jennifer Tavares, president and CEO of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, appeared at a committee meeting of the Ithaca Common Council to support and explain the idea behind the project.

She said she was seeking to learn how much money different municipalities, including Ithaca, would be willing to pitch in for the effort, called the “Wayfinding & Interpretive Signage Project.”

The project would add hundreds of signs around the county in an effort to increase tourism, especially from college students and their parents.

A memo submitted by Tavares to the city said the chamber wanted Ithaca to commit to $150,000 in funding, noting that this commitment would help the project secure a crucial state grant. She emphasized that Ithaca was just one of several stakeholders that would be funding the project.

However, the City of Ithaca’s administration committee rejected the motion in a 3-2 vote — even after Council chair Deborah Mohlenhoff suggested the amount agreed to be paid by the city be lowered from $150,000 to $50,000 over three years.

What is the proposal?

The “Wayfinding & Interpretive Signage Project” would add the following signs, among others, around the county:

— 6 “district info” signs to orient driver

— 7 “Ithaca” signs

— 3 interpretive kiosks for pedestrians

— 6 dedicated parking signs, plus

— 17 directional signs to four parking garages

— 26 downtown/Commons related signs

— 12 Ithaca Falls signs

— 6 Cayuga Waterfront Trail signs

— There are 5 new dedicated signs to Collegetown, and 7 mentions of Collegetown Parking Garage.

“We understand and are very aware of the budget constraints you are under,” Tavares told the Ithaca officials. “… but we do feel like it’s a really good project and it’s worthwhile and that the economic impact is substantial.”

Tavares said there was no shortage of anecdotes — citing hotel managers and other business leaders — of commuters failing to find their desired destinations because of confusing signs. A project memo also noted that it had already received over $60,000 in Tompkins County Tourism Program funding.

Tavareas added that the County Strategic Tourism Planning Board passed a resolution today recommending $150K (in the form of $50K per year over three years) to the project and said that the Town of Ithaca has committed up to $35K for the project.

Additional support from the county to provide significant signage installation support to the project could help reduce the overall $1.26 million project cost by between $400-500K, Tavares said.

Here are a couple of slides from the chamber’s memo, submitted to the city:

A slide from the Wayfinding presentation to the city

You can read the entire Wayfinding signage plan here.

Council members criticize proposal

But at least three Common Council members expressed concerns, saying the city couldn’t afford the expense and that it and has more pressing demands.

“I find this to be a really low-priority need,” said Common Council member Donna Fleming. “…For $150,000, we could get a new cop and a half or  several youth bureau workers.”

“I’m not compelled by the arguments that people get lost a lot here; I’m sorry, I’m not compelled.”

Similarly, Common Council member J.R. Clairborne said the city had lots of coming expenses and needs to think critically about its resources.

“With some of the other things looming before us, it’s really hard to put that high on the priority scale,” Clairborne said of the Wayfinding project.

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.