By RORYE O’CONNOR
MT. VERNON — —
The Mt. Vernon City Council on Monday approved an agreement with Found Design, LLC., doing business as Merje, regarding a city of Mt. Vernon wayfinding system.
The agreement will allow Merje to develop designs and plans for wayfinding signs of different types and in several different areas in Mt. Vernon in an effort to attract more tourism dollars to the city.
Bonnie Jerdon, Mt. Vernon tourism director, said the wayfinding signs are expected to increase the retail sales tax in the city by 10 to 18 percent. She said one of the main goals is to alert travelers that there is more than just what is right off the interstate, and to draw visitors to attractions such as Cedarhurst Center for the Arts.
Jerdon said a branding leadership team has been making efforts to increase tourism spending in the city on the recommendations of a consulting company. She said the team received qualifications from several companies, and proposals from three different companies, ranging from $74,000 to about $90,000.
“Visitors spend $91.6 million in Mt. Vernon annually,” Jerdon said. “There are $300,000 overnight visitors here every year.”
Mt. Vernon Mayor Mary Jane Chesley said it is important for the city to take advantage of its location and promote its hotels and restaurants.
“Our team is doing additional work to draw more people here,” Jerdon said. “We recently had our Fall Fest that about 20,000 people came to.”
She added that with increases in hotel occupancy in the last three years, local hotel properties are pleased.
The proposal from Merje was the low bid, Jerdon said, but the committee selected the company on its qualifications and process of design as well, which includes identifying the different types of signage to be used, coordinating with the Illinois Department of Transportation, and providing a style guide for future growth.
Jerdon said many travelers to Mt. Vernon don’t realize there is a downtown area.
“We think this is going to be a big help, and we have the data to back it up,” she said.
Council member Todd Piper asked if the design of the signs will allow the city room to grow.
Jerdon said the signs could be modular to allow changes and updates as needed.
Part of the process of the design agreement will be for Merje to work with community stakeholders and get their input on what they’d like to see as far as the look of the signs.
She said Merje provided great examples of its work in other communities, including Asheville, N.C., which branding study executor Destination Development called one of the best in the country.
“We still have that step to do,” she said. “Because we had chosen ‘Creativity Redefined,’ we wanted to choose a company with really creative signs. The report we receive from Merje will have sign designs that we can send to builders with exact specifications.”
Neibert added the report will include the number and types of signs, as well as bid specifications for when the city decides to make requests for bid with sign contractors.
The project will begin after the first of the year and is expected to take four to six months to complete, Jerdon said.
Nathan Pigg, a resident who said he is concerned about the project, asked where the funding would come from for the project. Neibert said the $74,000 would come from the Economic Development Quality of Life Capital Fund, which comprises funds from a 1/2 percent sales tax increase created in March 2012.
Pigg objected to the fact that the sales tax increase affects not only travelers but local residents as well.
“How can you justify spending $74,000 on signs when you’ve got sidewalks and roads that you can’t pass through?” he asked, adding that he’s seen hundreds of houses with trash in their yards.
Chesley said the city has been working since 2008 to identify and repair areas of need, from roads and sidewalks to sewer projects.
“Economic development brings Mt. Vernon $91 million,” she said. “It’s like an industry within the community itself.”
Pigg asked who in the community will benefit from the placement of the signage.
Chesley said hopefully, the increase in spending will benefit the whole city.
“There are lots of different ways this is going to be beneficial,” Jerdon said. “More sales tax will mean more money to use on other projects, which can be used to benefit the city in many different ways.”
Council member Dennis McEnaney made a motion to approve the resolution, with council member Ron Lash seconding the motion. The resolution passed unanimously.
In other business, the council: