Are signs in Windom Park tacky or helpful? Spurred by numerous complaints from citizens, the Winona City Council debated the event signage displayed at the corner of Huff Street and Broadway in a special meeting on Monday.
Mayor Mark Peterson announced he would recuse himself from voting on the debate, since his employer, the Winona County Historical Society, makes regular use of the signage venue, but he spoke to both sides of the issue. On the one hand, "I know these signs are effective," he said, relating the surprising number of Cemetery Walk attendees who reported learning of the event through city signage. On the other hand, he continued, "It is sort of sign pollution in one of our more beautiful parks, with the Princess We-no-nah fountain and a beautiful neighborhood."
Council member Michelle Alexander called the signs an important "community service," saying, "I like the signs. I like to know what's going on in the community." She described a recent trip to an Iowa town where similar signs tipped her off to exciting local events. She noted that the city itself often relies on the signs to promote its programming and said, "I would hate to do something that limits our exposure to the public. Maybe we could put them someplace else in the city."
"As a showplace park in the middle of the city surrounded by historic homes and perspectives on both sides, she felt that the signs were inappropriate," said Council member Allyn Thurley, relating the concerns of one constituent. Recently, the complaints have grown more frequent, he said.
These signs "really let a lot of people know about events that are supporting the community," said council member Pam Eyden. "Sometimes the signs are ugly," she conceded, but the city cannot police that. "What is the problem we're trying to solve?" she asked her fellow council members. "Is it a few people that think this park deserves to be treated like a timeless historic park and have no lively activity?"
Council member Gerry Krage was among those most opposed to the signs. "I came here tonight wanting them both removed," he said. Other council members expressed support for a third option, such as relocating the signs.
After being directed by council members to present options for alternative locations, city staff decided that "whatever locations we come up with someone would have the same arguments about them," said City Clerk Monica Hennessy Mohan. She noted that most of the city land well situated for displaying signs is parkland. Instead she suggested that the council choose between the following options:
1. Tweak the rules for signs, so that groups would have to choose between a sign at Windom Park, a banner over Mankato Avenue or a sign at Huff Street and Highway 61. Currently some groups employ multiple signs for a single event. Alternatively, the council could limit organizations to a single sign per year. Some organizations use city signs for multiple events.
2. Remove one of the signs at Windom Park.
3. Remove both of the signs at Windom Park.
"I was hopeful tonight that we would see some suggestions as to where to put those signs somewhere else," said Thurley.
Staff discussed relocating the signs, but "it's really moving the situation from one place to the next," replied City Manager Judy Bodway. "Most of our land is parkland, so you move it from one park to the next park. What have you solved? You either want the signs or you don't want the signs."
Council member Paul Double suggested moving one of the signs to the Fifth Street side of Windom Park or replacing it with a sign at Sarnia Street and Mankato Avenue to catch the eyes of the hotel crowd. Alexander suggested relocating the signs to the stoplight at Sarnia and Franklin streets. Alexander's proposal drew support from other council members, but city staff expressed concerns about the impact on park programming at that location. Bodway said that, given the traffic, adding signage on Sarnia Street and Mankato Avenue would be a bad idea.
Thurley and Krage both expressed a desire to hear about more possibilities at a future meeting. The council decided to postpone any decision and discuss it more at its December 30 meeting. In the meantime, council members approved pending requests for signs at Windom Park and pledged to honor sign requests "in the pipeline" whenever a final decision was reached.