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New $150,000 southern gateway sign to welcome Cedar Rapids motorists

Rick Smith, CR Gazette –

City Hall has been apologizing for some time about the broken-down sign along Interstate 380 that had been welcoming motorists to the city from the south.

On Tuesday, the City Council shifted gears and unanimously approved spending $150,000 to construct a new welcome sign, the idea for which has been nearly a year in the making.

The sign’s final design was created by SAA Design Group, Madison, Wis., in a process overseen by a special City Hall-appointed Gateways Task Force that featured input from the public and a design concept competition held for horticulture students at Kirkwood Community College.

The public asked the task force to make sure the new gateway sign conveys a friendly, progressive message to visitors; uses stone as a major material; is well lit; is modern; and easily read from the highway, Thomas Smith, a planner in the city’s Community Development Department, told the City Council on Tuesday.

City Council member Justin Shields said the sign’s final design will make a “beautiful entryway into our city,” something he said is befitting the state’s second largest city.

City Council member Monica Vernon deemed the sign “very lovely.”

Smith said the sign will be 42 feet long and will include a vertical panel 18 feet tall that features an image of a cityscape. The sign will incorporate stone and native plantings and will sit on the east side of Interstate 380 about a half a mile south of Highway 30.

Ruth Fox, a landscape architect and member of the Gateways Task Force, on Tuesday said two design firms competed to design the gateway sign, but the Madison, Wis., firm was chosen because it had the most experienced landscape architects, said Fox, of Ruth L. Fox Landscape Architecture + Planning, Cedar Rapids.

The final design, she said, incorporates a view of a downtown bridge that everyone from Cedar Rapids will recognize as well as a vertical panel that the sign’s designer said was needed to help capture the attention of motorists hustling by on Interstate 380.

“There may be people who wonder why the city spent money on it, but to them, I would just say, ‘Aren’t you proud of our city? Don’t’ you want our city to look nice to people when they come into our city?’” Fox said.

She said the task force rejected some preliminary designs that were “pretty out there.”

“We didn’t choose those because we know that Cedar Rapids is a relatively conservative town and we’re based more in our history,” Fox explained.

She said the task force wasn’t looking for people to say, “Oh my gosh, have you seen that sign in Cedar Rapids? What a thing.”

The city’s Smith said construction on the sign is slated to start this fall and be complete by winter. The landscaping for the sign will be finished in the spring.

In addition to Fox, the city task force included Dale Kueter, Scott Byers, Al Bohling, Mary Ann Peters, Dustin Hinrichs and Mike Evans.

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