North St. Paul makes progress implementing Wayfinding Plan


The new electronic monument sign similar to the rendering found in North St. Paul’s Wayfinding Plan. Aundrea Kinney /Review

The existing message sign on 17th Avenue at Casey Lake Park will be replaced. Aundrea Kinney /Review

The signs marking entrances to North St. Paul and marking the public parking lots were updated in January as part of the Wayfinding Plan. Aundrea Kinney photos/Review

The signs marking entrances to North St. Paul and marking the public parking lots were updated in January as part of the Wayfinding Plan. Aundrea Kinney photos/Review

The North St. Paul City Council accepted a bid Aug. 15 for a new electronic monument sign at Casey Lake Park. 

The vote came out 4-1 in favor of the sign that will be built by Albrecht Signs for just less than $45,000. Council member Jan Walczak cast the dissenting vote.

The sign design and location were approved in North St. Paul’s Wayfinding plan, which was adopted last year. The Wayfinding Plan is an initiative to create a system of signs to help residents and visitors navigate the city and find points of interest.

The double-sided electronic monument sign will be located where the existing sign is now, in view of vehicles driving along 17th Avenue. The sign will be able to display messages in a number of different fonts. Messages can also be flashing or alternating and can be scheduled months in advance. 

In addition to colorful numbers and letters, the sign can display three-dimensional graphics, animations, photos and videos. It will also automatically dim or brighten based on the light levels outside.

 

Wayfinding Plan

City Manager Jason Ziemer explained that in addition to helping people navigate the city, one of the goals of the Wayfinding Plan is to use a consistent theme with the city branding, from one part of the community to the next.

“It sort of connects everything together,” he said.

The plan involves five phases, one each year from 2016 to 2020, and includes several different kinds of signs including directional, city entrance, public parking and kiosk signs, in addition to monument signs like the one at Casey Lake.

Ziemer explained that federal law requires the city to update street signs in town from time to time. The city has a sign budget of about $20,000 a year, which can help with some of the signs in the Wayfinding Plan, but expensive projects like the monument sign at Casey Lake Park may need to have funding sourced from elsewhere. 

For example, as part of the Casey Lake Project, the city council authorized up to $60,000 in bond funding for the monument sign.

Ziemer said of all the signs in the Wayfinding Plan, the few monument signs are some of the most expensive because they incorporate numerous elements including concrete, footings, illuminations and reader boards. Other signs are less expensive — for example, city entrance signs cost only $200 each.

“Even though we’ve got this five-year plan, it’s all going to be based on the council decision, but also available funding,” Ziemer said, noting that the design of the kiosk signs intended for downtown and the Gateway Trail is an example of a project that has been pushed back from 2017 to 2018, because of the budget.

“I don’t think there is any particular rush to get it all done right now or tomorrow,” Ziemer said. “I think we’re trying to be strategic about things.”

 

Updating the entrance

The Wayfinding Project was kicked off with updated entrance signs at the city’s main entry points and uniform public parking lot signs, which were installed in January.

“The signs that we had had the old branding and a lot of the old entry signs were not consistent,” said Debra Gustafson, North St. Paul’s strategic operations director. “A lot of them were just deteriorating and just past their lifespan, so it was a good time to update those.”

Later this year, residents and visitors may see a few more new signs. The plan is to install signs on Seventh Avenue directing people to the public parking lots.

Ziemer said initially there was some confusion among residents regarding why signs were needed to help them get to places they already frequent. Ziemer explained that these signs can be helpful for new residents, but the primary target is visitors who are not already familiar with North St. Paul’s amenities. 

Ziemer and Gustafson both noted that since the new signs have been installed they have received an overall positive response from residents and members of the business community.

Businesses have ample reasons to appreciate better city signs, which help visitors find the city and its local businesses. The new signage also represents a success for many in the business community, who have spent years advocating for it.

 

A long overdue project

Dave Szczepanski, president of Garry Insurancenter, has advocated for better city signage for more than four decades through his involvement with numerous groups such as the Jaycees, the North St. Paul Business Association and North St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. 

The most recent group he became part of is the Wayfinding Committee, which is comprised of business representatives and residents. The group met monthly for about a year, taking the time to determine what wayfinding problems exist and identifying recommendations to fix them.

“I’ve been in business here for 42 years and during those 42 years and prior to that 42 years, signage ... was incredibly important,” Szczepanski said.

The North St. Paul Business Association has been working with the city for decades to implement new signs to help attract visitors off Highway 36 and into the downtown area, he said.

“We always struggled with the Highway 36 area, trying to get something other than the little blue sign that was out there that said ‘You are now entering North St. Paul,’” Szczepanski said.

“I went to numerous meetings over the years where everybody sat around and talked about this stuff, but nobody ever did anything,” he added.

Szczepanski said the Wayfinding Committee had the involvement of a couple city employees who helped the group stay focused on the need for several different kinds of signs.

“This time they’ve actually done something!” Szczepanski said, speculating that what made this time different was the reaffirmed commitment from the city.

Gustafson said North St. Paul staff has talked about improving signs for many years and the project eventually made its way into the comprehensive plan, strategic plan, and redevelopment master plan. Its inclusion in these plans was a huge reason the city formed the Wayfinding Committee and started taking action, she added.

Szczepanski said he thinks the design and placement of the new signs are much better and easier to see than the design and placement of the former signs. 

He added, “I’m just happy that they were able to actually put this together and then follow through.”

 

Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com


 

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