Branding: Smart idea or expensive blunder?

May 7, 2010

By Staff

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After ending the city’s branding project that lasted for almost three years, members of the City Council gave their opinions on the entirety of the project.

“The City Council owes an apology to our citizens for wasting $191,000 of their tax dollars,” Councilman Bill Erxleben said at the April 6 meeting.

He said the former city manager and former council majority made an appallingly bad decision by going forward with the branding project, adding that the decision was made worse because of financial strain the city was facing.

In an interview after the meeting, Erxleben said branding is significant in more remote cities, such as Leavenworth and Winthrop, where businesses, residents and visitors need to be attracted. However, he said branding isn’t necessary in a city located within a seamless series of suburbs, where attraction is done with other things.

“It isn’t done with signage. It isn’t done with logos,” Erxleben said about a suburban city’s draw. “It’s done with the quality of life in your city.”

Councilman Sonny Putter said the decision to return to the old sign standards gives city signs no distinguishing features. He also said branding is important as it establishes Newcastle as a special place, and that the new designs reflected the city being new, not old like neighboring cities.

He added that people who are interested in investing or developing in the city need to visually see that Newcastle is different, and then the branding would pay off in dividends.

“Right now, I fear for Newcastle’s future,” Putter said in an interview after the April 6 meeting.

In addition, Putter said the timing was right for the branding project, as much of the cost was covered by third parties through the Coal Creek Parkway and Transit Center projects.

However, Mayor John Dulcich also disagreed about the importance of branding and the timing of the project.

“We’re not Westfield shopping mall,” Dulcich said at the April 6 meeting, adding that signs are not what makes the city special.

“What truly separates Newcastle from other Eastside cities are the people and how they work together to build community,” he said.

Furthermore, Dulcich said the timing of the project was bad, given the economy and the city’s financial situation.

“We’re waving the chartreuse flag to show that we don’t have a clue about what’s going on,” he said after the April 6 meeting.

Councilwoman Carol Simpson spoke against the new parks signs, and she said they have sharp edges low to the ground that are dangerous, especially to children.

“They are a danger for everybody who goes to our parks,” she said.

In December, city staff members removed five signs from Windtree Park and one sign from Highlands Park because they were too large. Prior to the signs being removed, residents had expressed concerns about the dangers the signs posed.

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