Downtown group favors $900K plan for new Dayton signs

Downtown Dayton boosters are supporting a plan that would involve spending about $900,000 on new, eye-catching signs and gateways to help direct people to places they want to go.

The proposal also calls for creating new downtown districts to help with wayfinding and place branding.

“Good wayfinding really transcends navigation and is really about fostering a sense of place and reinforcing the brand of the city,” said Scott Murphy, vice president of economic development with the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

Downtown has many new visitors who don’t know their way around and may not realize how much the center city has to offer, Murphy said.

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This is a good problem to have, said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.

“It’s nice that we’re getting to the point where people don’t know where to go downtown,” she said. “It’s a good sign, because that means it’s new people.”

Partners on the Greater Downtown Dayton Plan have been meeting to discuss how to elevate streetscapes and improve navigation in the center city.

Supporters worked with Cleveland-based Guide Studio to come up with some concepts for improving the urban environment.

The planning process still is in the early stages, but stakeholders are in favor of signage and wayfinding that have a “modern industrious” design, Murphy said.

That could be metal materials with “pops” of color, custom mesh patterns and lighting incorporated into the signage, possibly like back-lit lettering.

The group supports creating unique and dramatic gateways into downtown and what would be newly designated districts.

Possible gateway sites include the Main Street bridge, the U.S. 35 underpass on South Main Street, the interstate overpass on Third Street, the rail overpass on Wayne Avenue and elsewhere, Murphy said.

Gateways could have murals or decorative features.

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Across the nation, underpasses have been turned into works of art. Some gateways have funky and colorful sculptures.

One example of artistic creativity was an underpass in western Germany that was painted to look like large LEGO bricks.

Dayton already has installed colorful lighting at multiple sections of the U.S. 35 underpass to make it more inviting and attractive.

Installing vehicular and pedestrian signs around downtown could cost around $900,000, Murphy said, and a funding strategy is still being developed.

The initiative also proposes dividing downtown into five or six distinct districts.

Webster Station and the Oregon District are already are well-known areas that would be their own districts.

But there could be a new "Center City" district that covers the main part of the Central Business District, and a new "education district" in southwestern downtown that includes Sinclair College and Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School.

A new “civic center” district in northwest downtown would have City Hall, the courthouses, the Montgomery County administration building and other government facilities.

There could be a new “riverfront district” along the Great Miami River, which is the boundary for the northern and northwestern parts of downtown.

The districts’ current labels are placeholders that are subject to change.

Wayfinding should help guide people to popular destinations and parking, plus encourage the exploration of other sites and parts of downtown, Murphy said.

New signage would point pedestrians and motorists to the particular districts they want to go. Once there, additional signage would show visitors where to park and how to get to their destinations.

Conversations continue with community stakeholders to collect feedback about designs, and next steps including determining district boundaries, what the areas should be called and fundraising, Murphy said.

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