Welcome to our … town ??? industrial park ??? What do you think? (Photo courtesy TOML)
The town’s new proposed welcome sign, has of late sparked a lot of water cooler and coffee house debate. As with most art, what you see in it depends on who you are and your point of view. Some see art, others see a monicker for an industrial park, and still others see only the dollar signs associated with its cost.
Take, for instance, the members of the Public Arts Commission, who all had slightly differing opinions on the Janice Kabala-designed piece that is the finalist to supplant the current welcome sign on Hwy 203 at the entrance to town. Town Council asked the commission to pull together public and commission opinion and make a recommendation as to whether it should go ahead, go back to the drawing board or be put on hold. Commissioners took up the subject during their Tuesday morning regular meeting.
At the outset, Commissioners Bea Beyer and Kendra Knight expressed reservations. Beyer had a problem with the overall design and, even though she came in late to the discussion and applauded the work done to this point, would have a problem supporting the expense of the project.
“I know I’m something of a lone voice, but the existing sign has not been defaced and seems to reflect well the spirit of the town,” Beyer stated.
“The new concept does sort of scream, ‘Irvine.’ If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Beyer said. “I’m really concerned with our throwaway society.”
She did, however, allow, “To be fair change involves risk.”
Price tag for removing the old sign, creating the new one and having it installed: $150,000. That’s where Knight said she was somewhat torn. “Early on, it was different and cost much less, around $50,000 was what we estimated the initial cost to be.” Chair Noelle Deinken pointed out that there was no real, hard and fast initial cost, but took her point that in any event it’s now higher.
“On the other hand, art is a form of communication and won’t necessarily communicate with everyone the same way,” Knight added. “It’s modern art, which by definition is ahead of its time.”
Since the process started, she added, the commission has been “confronted by the public on numerous occasions and weighed a lot of factors.” The new sign proposal was, Deinken related, one part of the Town’s branding study that was started about two years ago.
Commissioner Nick Holst surmised, and Town Senior Planner Sandra Moberly confirmed, that the additional cost was due to a certain amount of permitting and the estimated costs of removing the current sign and its footer, and installing the new welcome sign. Moberly said those figures weren’t included as part of the original sign’s cost, but would have to be included as part of any new sign, no matter what it was. She did, however, say the numbers pushing the cost that high are “very conservative” and that staff “expects it will probably be less.”
Deinken said she thought the sign was elegant. “It shows that Mammoth is with the times, and riding the wave of the future,” she commented.
Kabala, defending the merits of her work, said the sign was designed with rustic colors, recalling the area’s mining history, which she said we are bound to, like it or not. “There’s no sign like it anywhere in the world, including Irvine,” Kabala said. “It’s truly one of a kind.”
During public comment, Elizabeth Tenney said she approved of having art as a welcome sign, but had reservations. In a down economy, she said, it was important to “keep Mammoth up to snuff.”
“We need to give visitors a sense of warmth along with that welcome, and the sign’s concrete doesn’t convey that,” she opined. “It also doesn’t show the ‘best of Mammoth’.”
“It’s interesting, a well designed piece of sculpture, but not it,” she concluded.
Alan Blumer said he thinks the sign should include more elements associated with the town, such as more wood and stone, and be more representative of the Town’s stated “Village in the Trees” objective. “[The new concept] looks like something you’d see in a business park.”
Justin Everson wasn’t so hard on the concept. “My initial response was, ‘It’s a name tag.’ It’s hard to ‘get’ until you see the colors and textures. It’s not the same old thing.”
Holst agreed, indicating that the sign, which features letters lit from the inside and metal rosettes to catch and throw outside light, breaks with the tradition of aligning Mammoth with U.S. 395.
“Making a seamless transition from 395 to town isn’t practical or necessary,” he stated. “Doing that in itself would seem manufactured.”
“You [the Public Arts Commission and Kabala] have labored long and hard on this sign and I support it,” said Mayor Neil McCarroll said. “My term ends on June 8 and I would like to see something done by then.”
“I wanted to see something not homogeneous,” remarked Commissioner Michael Bornfeld. “Parts of the town are almost cookie-cutter, Disney-esque in terms of colors and sameness. This new sign adds some spice, some freshness.”
Sara Pfeiffer said she thought it might be better to try to blend some old with the new. “People have strong ties with the past they knew and grew up with,” she posited. “Integrate materials that speak to the recent past.”
Councilmember Skip Harvey wasn’t as critical of the piece itself as he was the whole new sign effort. “Our focus right now should be to enhance our guests experience in town, a la what Trail of the Trout did,” Harvey said. “I think it’s more important to have smaller displays of art throughout town versus one big sign.”
Moberly said that installation of the new sign would have to go out for public bidding, which Beyer pointed out could be problematic for local contrators, who are often outbid by outside companies. Kabala said, however, that if she has her way, the metal work for the sign will be done by a local artist. The concrete work, however, may have to come from out of state. Kabala said there are only two companies in the country that do the kind of work that incorporates integrated fiber-optic lighting.
The Commission voted 4-1 (with Beyer abstaining) to move the new sign plan to its next (and presumably final) step, recommend Kabala’s concept as is to Council for funding.
The concept renderings and color/texture samples for public viewing in the Town offices on the second floor of the Minaret Mall above Giovanni’s.