City Plans $200k of Tourism Signs

Kelly writes to point out that Seth Rosen had an article in the Progress last week on the topic of the city’s $200k new signage program, designed to help tourists find their way downtown. The Board of Architectural Review is in the process of approving the array of signs, which will appear at the city’s major entrance corridors, ringing the Downtown Mall, and along the Mall itself. The signs on the Downtown Mall is embarrassingly out of date — if there wasn’t a plan to upgrade them, it would be better to tear them down than to leave them up. The city forecasts that the signs will be up come spring.

50 thoughts on “City Plans $200k of Tourism Signs”

  1. $200,000 for signs. Maybe $300,000 for cameras on the Mall. The City doesnt do anything on the cheap. Like, that $20,000 Christmas tree a few years ago.
    The oldtimers had a word for what City Hall likes to: “Putting on airs.” Like all this “world class city” stuff on city letterheads, vehicles, etc. Wonder how much that cost to do?
    And now that the city has lost the #1 ranking, will they change it, at more expense?

  2. OK, nothing can stop the signs since the ball is already rolling. Let’s just make sure we do them right the first time. Let’s make sure there is also a “spanish” interpretation on the sign. And oh yeah, let’s put the info. in brail too for the visually challenged. Or maybe have an audio chip play at the touch of a button. Then let’s not forget to use lead-free paint on the signs and have them made from recycled materials, and so on, and so on. Sheesh!

  3. signage is beyond expensive. I can see how it would be a shocking number, but you have to pay for the graphic design, then fabrication and instillation. it adds up quickly.

    that said – I didn’t realize folks were having trouble finding downtown, seems pretty packed to me already…

  4. I’m in favor of revamping the signs, especially putting them in places that make sense and making them legible instead of using weird graphics. I live in the Locust Grove neighborhood, and I find that I’m stopped while walking the dog by someone who is lost at least a few times a month. They are always looking for downtown or the University, and they have google maps that tell them to turn on roads that are not marked as routes toward downtown or UVa. There is a sign at McIntyre Rd, but not at High St and 250 Bypass where Google tells them to turn as they approach the city from the East. (If there is one, no one sees it or knows what it means.) They end up in Locust Grove because the turn on High, change their mind, and head back up River Rd.

    I’m just wondering if they replace or improve the signs, will it jive with the internet directions, and will people actually find their way?

  5. I think you were right the first time. Paying 200K for a bunch of signs no one needs or wants IS a bunch of “jive”. It’s that “jive talkin'” from City Hall.

  6. Didn’t the city just pay for new signs a few years ago? You know -the nice shiny metal ones that are now rusting and look ugly and need to be replaced (apparently news of that exciting new metal “aluminum” hadn’t reached these parts at that time). And Phonypony is dead-on – is anybody aware of a roving band of tourists lost on the Market – Water St loop trying to find their way to the Downtown Mall?

  7. Perhaps I’m barking up the wrong tree, but isn’t the city ignoring the fact that it’s not really sustainable or reasonable or even sane to attempt to bring THAT many tourists to the only densely urban area in Charlottesville? Especially with a total lack of available / affordable parking?

    I’m the stage manager / hospitality guy for touring musical acts at the Tea Bazaar, and last week I was attempting to help a two-man band find a parking spot and space where they could load up their (heavy) gear; usually this isn’t a problem, but on a Friday night during a pavilion show, it was nearly impossible and took almost an hour. I know this is totally anecdotal, but for me it was one recent event that really underlined how ridiculous and non-sustainable it is to encourage such rampant tourism.

    As someone who’s lived in Charlottesville for 15 of the past 20 years, I find all this tourism makes it much more difficult for those of us who already live here. I know tourism makes the big bucks for a lot of local businesses, but in my view it would be far more preferable to build a sustainable local economy on a well-balanced, spread-out urban environment in Charlottesville, with good public transportation and a healthy population of middle-class city-dwelling residents.

    Granted, I’m no expert on city planning, but the above situation sounds better to me than what we’re doing now, which is encouraging rich folks from far and wide to shop in and move to the area, creating chronic traffic congestion and unsustainable housing prices, and constantly pushing a very small urban area to be fancier and more beorgeoise / neuveau-riche, directly next to an increasingly ghetto-ized lower-class neighborhood in a city where pelnty of folks aren’t payed a living wage and where there’s still a noticable economic gap that is largely drawn along lines of race.

    In short, wouldn’t it be better to make Charlottesville a more affordable and navigable place to live for the people who already live here, rather than decreasing the standard of living for Charlottesville’s working poor and attempting to patch up the problem by hyping the Downtown Mall into a sort of mini-Tyson’s Square?

    (I’m eagerly looking forward to an astute response from anyone who’s better informed on these issues than I am…)

  8. Good points there James but as long as we got Monticello/UVa, we will always have tourist.

    In other news, the city announced they are still having a hard time keeping teachers and police officers in the city. When ask, one member said ‘ we know we are losing them due to lower wages and high real estate, but we just don’t know where we can budget any more tax dollar sustain their services, we don’t have the budget nor the money. The bright side is that we just give out another grant of 50k to some artist who doesn’t live in this area to put up a box with a stick in it on the bypass. We support artists.’

    I don’t know sometimes.

  9. On a lighter note-

    Every time my Dad sees that weird graphic with three silhouettes on it, he makes the same joke: “Ah yes, the three great presidents from Virginia! William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, and Zachary Taylor!”

    I know it’s super-corny but it makes me chuckle every time.

  10. The bright side is that we just give out another grant of 50k to some artist who doesn’t live in this area to put up a box with a stick in it on the bypass.


    $50,000? Artist who doesn’t live in this area? What on Earth do you mean?

  11. it is joke, i wasn’t being serious. Hell, I don’t know how much they spend on those ‘pieces of art’.

  12. Mr. Huja was the “Art-In-Place” genious. You’d have to ask him, but I’ve got a feeling he ain’t talkin’.

  13. Well, the city council has already decided to spend the money. My concern is whether the will spend it on signs that are actually helpful and direct folks to where they want to be, instead of wandering through neighborhoods.

  14. This is what I don’t get. The city has 200K for signs, 300K for cameras but our policemen and teachers can’t afford to live where they work because there is zero affordable housing in the city. Does the City Council just want to be a city of tourists and have no regular citizens? I just think 500K could be used for some more important things like housing, shelters, job assistance and training, daycare for low income folks.
    But who am I?

  15. I thought that Art in Place only purchases one sculpture annually, and it’s usually one that is popular with city residents. The others are sent back to the artist.. And, the Whale Tail was created by a local sculptor- Tom Givens.

  16. it is joke, i wasn’t being serious. Hell, I don’t know how much they spend on those ‘pieces of art’.

    The city doesn’t spend any money on the art itself — they provide an annual grant ($5k, if I recall correctly) to a local non-profit (ArtInPlace) that uses that money, along with private funds, in order to provide each artist with a $1,500 honorarium. If you saw how much time Tom Given puts into that whale tail, you know that’s a pretty lousy hourly wage. :)

    It is true, though, that a bunch of the art isn’t made locally. I didn’t know that until you mentioned it, and I checked the ArtInPlace map. Some of it is (like the whale tail), but a bunch of it is from throughout the southeast U.S.

    Public beautification is important. It’s why cities plant flowers and bushes, water their grass and erect statues to honor great figures. It’s why we look at the cold, efficient architecture of communist Russia and shiver. We can spend a few thousand bucks on art each year.

  17. I think you have a good point Jan. Let’s see, I wonder how other “boutique” cities, such as Aspen, Beverly Hills, Telluride, etc., how do they pay their civil servants? I don’t know. I guess they probably just tax the hell out of all those rich folks.

  18. Hey, some of the USSR’s architecture was amazing. You can’t just look at those concrete blocks from the Brezhnev and Kruschev eras and say, “That’s communist Russia” while ignoring the soaring edifices of MGU and other early Socialist architecture. And Moscow is FULL of statues and decorative fencing and artwork. The metro is amazing. Seriously, if you’ve never seen pictures of the metro stations, look them up. Gorgeous, gorgeous work. It’s a darn nifty city. ;) It’s also a vestige of a time when debt was regarded as a capitalist invention, so budgets weren’t really a concern.

    But yeah. The 60s and 70s were not a time for beautification. It’s poked fun at quite a bit, especially in the cult classic Ironiya Sud’bi (great film).

    I appreciate ArtInPlace. I may not like all the pieces, but I do see the value in the program. It’s good to have landscaping (preferably native and drought-tolerant), artwork, building standards, and whatnot.

  19. The original request this spring for new signs put forth was $1 million. The $200k is the appropriation for this year. The other $800k will probably be spread over a period of several years to put up the rest of the signs that can not be put up within the $200k budget. All of the old signs will have to be removed to make sure everything matches the new design. Who knows, this project may end up in the lap of the design center at tax payers’ expense after they finish the $147k design contest for flat lot construction on Water Street, if they move in rent-free in the Market Street parking garage in the space that was once occupied by the downtown mall tourist center, which is now in the downtown mall transit center next to the revamped downtown mall amphitheater next to the newly-bricked space in front of City Hall.
    This will be the fourth set of signs paid for by the City to direct people to the Downtown Mall since the brick was put down. Will it be the last? Looking back, no. Particularly since Mr. Huja, who sponsors Art-in-Place and projects using transportation grants such as bricking the street beside the Paramount Theater for that special non-historic touch, and who has already personally installed at least two sets of signs to the downtown mall since 1979, is running for a seat on City Council this fall.
    I suggest that everybody just forget about that $200k as he has forgotten about all the other tax expenditures and the millions it will take to re-do the decaying underpinnings of the mall, stroll down the mall and enjoy it! There’s very little else you can do.

  20. $500k goes nowhere to providing affordable housing, let’s be serious.

    Every decent sized city has this problem. Living in the city is simply expensive, supply and demand. Is it ‘fair’ for cops, firefighters, and teachers to have to live outside the area they serve because of the economics?

    No, but neither are a lot of things in life. And compared to a lot of other cities, we have a lot of affordable housing in nearby counties without huge traffic problems.

  21. That’s true. That’s one of the reasons I moved to Lynchburg. You can buy twice the house for the same money vs. C’ville. The only downside is “sniff”, Jerry’s gone.

  22. $500,000 sponsors ten Habitat homes. Ten additional families invested in their communities. At least twenty kids with permanent roofs over their heads. It goes somewhere, just not very far.

  23. Yes siree Mr. Chad Day LET’S BE SERIOUS. I can think of a whole lot of things that 500K-or even 200K could be put to good use other than tourism signs.

  24. I went to Annapolis last week and the signage there was f’ing terrible. Would I have spent more money? No question. I’m sure the city looks on the 200k partially as an investment to generate tourist dollars, and I don’t think it’s a bad one.

    This just seems to be like it’s kind of the “why aren’t police out stopping murders instead of pulling me over for speeding” argument. I know I can’t phrase this nearly as good as I want, but the fact that the city is spending $x on this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t spend $y on something else. Man, that came out confusing.

    Taking that logic to an extreme, we shouldn’t spend anything on signage, downtown mall repair, art until we address crime, poverty, etc etc. And I don’t agree with that.

  25. Sign, sign, everywhere a sign. Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind….(whistle, hum)

  26. Excellent point Stormy. I was looking at these current signs. They aren’t bad, not bad at all-certainly not bad eough to warrant this big expenditure this year. Fixing the mall so folks (these tourists that everyone seems to want to attract-with the signs) don’t continue to fall down might be a better way to use up all this money Council seems to want to throw away. Beats getting sued.

  27. The Charlottesville city budget that is posted online:

    Forgive me for rehashing..

    The new signs are listed under a five year Capital Improvement Plan that has been allocated $85 million. So over the five years, the city will upgrade LOTS of stuff, including city buildings, school buildings, new paving and sidewalks, bridges, public safety equipment, etc. The 5 year budget for transportation and access is a little over $12million. It’s going to take 1.7million to replace CTS buses, and 1.6Million to fix bridges and highways, and 3.3million to reconstruct streets. This is a 5 year program that is separate from but partially funded by the annual general fund.

    From what I can tell, the CIP funded mostly from bonds (49%), but some also from last years budget surplus (31%) and the general fund (19%. I’m assuing that is mostly tax revenue. Let me know if I’m wrong.)

    $200K isn’t completely over the top, when you compare it to the 13million that the Public Works department will spend this year from the general fund and 63million from other funds.

    As for housing, the CIP includes 2.6million for neighborhoods and housing initiatives. The City Council allocated 20million from the general fund and 22million from other funds for Healthy Families and Community.

    Bottom line… Of course we’d like to have a lot more money toward housing. I’d like to know more about the actual cost of promoting housing programs, as compared to the cost of maintaining roads and purchasing equipment, etc. Posting signs as part of the total $170million planned to maintain and upgrade the city facilities doesn’t seem to be a major budget crime.

  28. I’m glad Kelly has brought in a new perspective: What are we actually spending our money on and what are the sources of the revenues? The Capital Improvements Program is a misnomer. It is not a defined program, but rather a tentative projection of known projects spaced out over the future. Each year Council readjusts the figures and adds several million more dollars to the pots of allocation as requests come in. For example, two years ago, it was projected that the City would contribute $500,000 to UVA contruction on the corner of JPA and W. Main. The next year the figure changed to $900,000. Next year, Council may decide to raise it to $1.5M. The total pot includes local, state and federal funding although the local share is increasing every year percentage wise. Keep in mind that this $200k represents almost a half-cent on the real estate tax rate. This is not Council’s money, it’s tax payers’ money and should be spent wisely. Until last year, our City budget increased $6 to $7 million every year. Last year it went up $12 million. Can we continue to afford these increases?

  29. Two things. First, City Council just went on junket to Ashville to see how they have attracted tourists. At least they won’t come back saying we need a light rail system like when they come back from Portland, OR.

    Second, the city does not seem to want to buy the whale tail. Tom is working on finding a new home for it. I wish him the best, he is a great guy.

  30. “Keep in mind that this $200k represents almost a half-cent on the real estate tax rate.”

    How do you figure that?

  31. That’s the first I’ve heard of the “junket” City Council took to Asheville — and I’m pissed, because apparently I got left behind! (Or, maybe, it just never happened…)

    And for the record, Council doesn’t typically get involved in selecting sculptures for Art in Place, but if we did, I’d happily support the purchase of Tom’s whale tail.

  32. I’m the last guy to advocate spending public money on things like art, but, man, I really dig the whale tail and hope some means can be found to leave it where it is.

  33. Kelly,
    According to Gary O’Connell, City Manager, each penny per $100 of real estate value represent around $450,000 in revenues. I was using his figures given during the last budget hearings in discussions involving lowering the tax rates. He told Kevin Lynch, that in order to lower the tax rate 4 cents, Council would have to reduce the budget by about $2 million. I see Dave Norris out there. Is that your take on the tax rate, Dave? I’d hate to be misleading.

  34. I can’t believe City Council went on a road trip to Asheville and left Dave Norris behind. And all this time he thought he was one of the cool kids. Go figure.

  35. The whale tail is actually one of the few sculptures around town that I actually like. I can’t say that for most of the rest of them (a few of which seem like they’re permanent, or perhaps I’m just not paying much attention to those). The best part of the Whale Tail for me was driving by every few weeks and seeing the progress of it’s construction.

    As for the signs, I really don’t see why they’re necessary. The Downtown area seems to be doing just fine without the extra help and I seriously doubt that there is (or will be) a significant loss of revenue because there are a few less signs.

    My vote- spend the money on the needed upkeep for the things we already have- those unglamorous expenditures which are necessary because without them things might start to fall apart. It just seems like common sense that you fix the leaky roof before you start re-decorating the living room. Then if you’ve got anything left over after all of those priorities have been funded, well at that point you can have the discussion about the best way to waste 200k.

  36. Thanks for that info, Cville Eye. Because the CIP is funded only 19% from general funds, the money for the signs is 1/5 of the half cent on the real estate tax bill for this year?

  37. Kelly,
    I see what you’re asking, I think. With restrictions on the way federal and state funds are spent, it may be that only local monies can be spent on the signs, or…if state or federal transportation funds are used, then its zero. Or….if 200k of federal or state funds were directed to the replacement buses then the local funds would be for the signs. I like to think of it as all going into the same pot regardless of source and it EQUATES to about a half cent. Similar to the husband making the TV payments and the wife making the dish washer, it’s all coming from household cash assets. I admit there are a lot of other people who do not look at it this way, and, in fact the City’s accounting system cannot look at it this way. Tough question, possibly dumb answer.

  38. I can’t tell from the info posted on the city website if the money for the CIP is subdivided for special uses based upon its source. It only shows a balance sheet for the total sum.

    The CIP looks like a separate account (similar to a savings account maybe) that is funded 80% by other sources than city tax revenue for 2008. The capital improvements, including the signs, will take 19% (let’s just say 1/5) of next year’s taxes. So the actual toll for capital improvements on real estate taxes for 2008 should only be about 1/5 of the 1/2 cent you quoted for $200,000 of tax revenue. That’s 1/10 of a cent on next year’s real estate tax bill. Like contributing 10% of your paycheck to a savings account to pay for a new roof while you pay monthly bills from your checking account. If we never get new signs, the money to get new buses or replace the boiler in the police station would come from the same formula, no?

    This just what I surmise from what I read in the budget and the figure you gave me…

  39. I am guessing that the 19% represents the line called something like “direct contribution from the general fund” which is several million dollars. Does this amount include the amount, which should be more substantial, from bonds? Bond money is indirectly from the general fund because all of the money that goes to pay off the bonds will come from the future general funds. No federal or state funds can be used for this purpose. So, if the 19% does not include the revenue from the bond issue then it does not adequately reflect the contributions from local tax sources.
    Your example above of needing a new roof is a good one. Usually, a new roof is a necessity, indeed a high priority. New signs strike me as being more of a want than a need. One of the fundamental problems with the way the City spends money is, according to its list of priorities (which is in the form of categories and not items), every spending suggestion fits some category. Food is a priority for every family, barbecue parties are not. Therefore, new signs are as high a priority here as school building repair or recreational facilities repair or police car replacement or traffic light installation. Why? Because, until now, the City has been able to raise taxes to cover whatever it wanted (as opposed to needed) to spend.

  40. Take a look at the budget posted on the city website to answer the question about the bonds. I think the 19% represents the incoming tax revenue for 2008, which is what you brought up before.

  41. I found the comments about the whale tail Art in Place rather amusing. Wikipedia calls “whale tail” a slang term for an exposed thong!
    R-rated Art in Place maybe?

  42. Heard there was a request for proposals from the city over the weekend for an indoor pool. Another lovely overbudget civic structure we all get to pay for?

  43. I see 18.41% coming directly from the General Fund, 48.90% from bond issues, 30.84% fund balance carry-over from 2006, .94% from City Schools and .92% from Albemarle County. The entire revenue (48%) from bond issues is money from a local source called debt service (by law, no federal or state money can go into this)that is totally funded from local sources, hits the General Fund and pops right out of it; 1% from the local schools is an accounting technique that shows money the City gave to the schools (from where, I don’t know) is reflected in the City’s books; the 30% carry-over is obviously unspent local funds that have been moved to another year that originally came from the General Fund. I don’t know where the County’s money came from. As you can see, the CIP is funded almost entirely from local sources (General Fund), whether it’s from sales taxes, property taxes, fines or whatever. This money should be put to better purposes, or, heavens forbid, don’t collect it in the first place. This money does not belong to those 5 people on Council contrary to popular opinion and they have no God-given right to it.
    I still want to know, if citizens are charged $35 by the City to get a rain barrel and a course on how to use it, why is the urban garden being paid $18,000 by the City to install three of them. Why the Garden paying $105 for that privilege?

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