SOUTHBRIDGE – Officials recently approved nearly $21,000 for blue and yellow wayfinding signs, just 11 months after initially rejecting the proposal over concerns about the colors and funding source.
Rather than spending money from the town budget, as was originally presented to councilors in February, the town will pay for the signs from an alternate funding source that was recently identified.
The town will use money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program, from funds that are eligible to be used for non-CDBG projects, said Rosemary Scriven, the town’s economic development director.
In the spring, four “Welcome to Southbridge” signs will be installed at entryways on Route 131, from Sturbridge and Dudley, and Route 169 from Charlton and Woodstock, Connecticut.
Also, about three other types of wayfinding signs will be placed downtown, at parking areas, and by civic buildings and historical and entertainment-type points of interest.
The town is hoping that this will be the first phase of signs, Ms. Scrivens, a former regional director of the state office of business development, said in an interview Friday.
The town wants to be known as a destination, and it has various points of interest, such as the Westville Lake and dam area, the 203-room Southbridge Hotel & Conference Center on the grounds of the former American Optical Co. complex, a large arts and entertainment complex with an optical museum on Crane Street, and a municipal airport.
In February, officials first proposed the signs as a small way of trying to draw people toward the millions of dollars in sales leakage in almost every retail sector within five miles of downtown Southbridge.
The money spent elsewhere should be framed as opportunities for Southbridge, said Ms. Scrivens, who was joined by Mark Favermann of Favermann Design in Boston, which developed the wayfinding signage for the town.
Favermann Design performed a similar role in 17 communities in Massachusetts, including Sturbridge, and worked with a Southbridge committee to develop signs that show Southbridge’s downtown in blue and mustard yellow.
But during the meeting in February, Town Council members expressed concern or outright displeasure with the color choices for the branding. They said people associate Southbridge with its public school colors of red and white.
Mr. Favermann said the committee with which he worked was unanimously against red because they felt it was too ordinary and would blend in with the brick façades of downtown buildings.
Since then, Ms. Scrivens said, town officials were able to convince a council subcommittee that the proposed signs were needed as a noticeable and contemporary way to market the town with “pop.”
And after identifying the CDBG funds, officials resolved to present the proposal again, and it was approved by the council last week, 8-0.
“I’m excited,” Ms. Scrivens said. “For a small amount of money it will be kind of splashy.”
In explaining Southbridge as a destination, in spite of its struggles with unemployment and school system, Ms. Scrivens said, “The only way you can improve it is to think big and don’t listen to the naysayers and make strides to improve it.” She called the signs a “small symbolic way” of doing so.