By Trevor Busch
While council may have been in agreement about purchasing a new LED sign for the community during 2018 capital budget deliberations, just where they wanted the sign to go turned out to be a different question entirely.
Following back-to-back split votes over the issue of location at town council’s Feb. 26 regular meeting, council finally settled on the current Taber Community Centre sign location (the ‘Coca-Cola’ sign) on 50th Street, but not before lengthy debate over the merits of several other locations.
During budget deliberations in late 2017, council had voted to allocate $120,000 for the purchase of an LED sign. At that time, the primary location discussed by council was the area in front of the Taber Community Centre where the existing Coca-Cola sign is currently positioned. The second location discussed was the large existing sign close to Highway 3 on the southern edge of the Taber Community Centre property.
Administration was also seeking clarity on sponsorship opportunities for the LED sign, presenting three options which included overall sign sponsorship, such as branding on the exterior of the sign as well as involvement in messaging content; advert fees for events, which is currently utilized by portable signs in the community; or town ownership and control with no sponsors and the town determining messaging content.
“My vision of this sign is for community events, no sponsors,” said Coun. Jack Brewin, opening debate over the issue on Feb. 26. “I’m more in favour of putting it in front of the Administration Building. This compared with the Coca-Cola sign, I don’t think there’s much difference in visibility. The location will be decided by what we want to put on the sign, and my vision of this sign was to advertise town events, and not to be advertising.”
Coun. Louie Tams agreed with Brewin about sponsorship, but preferred the current Taber Community Centre location.
“I like that, too, but I believe that Coca-Cola sign that we have there — that hasn’t functioned forever — is probably the ideal location. We have power, we have utilities, we have everything there, it’s just a matter of putting up the sign at that location. I think it’s probably the most central location that you see. It also gets rid of an eyesore that hasn’t worked for how many years.”
Coun. Joe Strojwas, on the other hand, argued in favour of a location adjacent to Highway 3 near the Taber Aquafun Centre.
“On the other hand, if we put that sign out by the highway by the Cornstock there, it’s going to get viewership from the highway, people driving up and down Highway 3, connecting to better exposure for people coming through town and seeing what events are in a higher visibility area. Someday we will still be going down with a 50th Street upgrade, and that sign may very well may have to be moved. I think we should all consider a location next to the highway for better appeal in a higher visibility area.”
Reminding council that an Administration Building location would probably require the permission of the M.D. of Taber, Coun. Mark Garner also advocated for the current Taber Community Centre location.
“Both of those locations, I look at this way. Primarily if we put it on the existing Coke structure, I think it’s way more vandal-proof. The superstructure is already there, it’s got electricity, and primarily the residents of Taber will see that sign if they’re going north or south, whereas if you go the other option, are we not talking visibility only from east and west? I think there’s way more people go this way (north-south) that are local people than local people down that highway. The other thing with regard to Mr. Brewin’s suggestion, is if we’re putting in front of the Administration Building, I think we need to be reminded that we’re sharing this building with another entity here. My option would be to do the Coca-Cola structure.”
Coun. Carly Firth was on board with Strojwas’ suggestion of a highway location based on visibility and maximum exposure.
“I agree with the location that Councillor Strojwas suggested, the difference being that I think that citizens of the town are going to see it either way. The difference with it being on the highway is more visibility for people on the highway, and also traffic is actually stopped there because of the lights, whereas if you put it where the Coca-Cola sign is people are driving by. The amount that they’ll be able to read will be limited when they’re driving versus when they’re parked, they might be able to see more.”
More amenable to the idea of sponsorship based on the prospect of enhanced costs raised by Strojwas, Mayor Andrew Prokop was also in favour of a highway location.
“I also agree that the highway location is probably the best choice, all things considered. We’ve been talking about doing something with our display out there as it is, and enhancing that in some capacity also. To me, this would tie in with that. Cost may be a factor as Councillor Strojwas has suggested, as far as putting that out there, some assistance through other businesses, but we’ve been talking for some time about economic development, and people having a reason to turn into town. So to me, somebody passing through or traveling down the highway, if that sign is out on the highway that location there, that’s the key. It’s key to visibility as far as maximum numbers that are going to see that sign. I would be more in favour of that for those reasons.”
Coun. Garth Bekkering wasn’t convinced that a highway location near the Taber Aquafun Centre would actually increase the exposure of the sign.
“It seems to me, though — I’m not opposed to the sign on the highway, I think that’s a pretty good location — but I’m just thinking to myself how many people when they drive through town stop at the light on 50th and Highway 3, would actually look left and be able to read that sign as they’re driving through? I don’t think it’s possible. I think if they’re stopped, yes. If you’re traveling east or west, to be able to read that sign, I don’t know.”
Brewin was totally opposed the the idea of sponsorship, suggesting the town should maintain control over all content and messaging.
“I agree with Councillor Bekkering, I favour the Coca-Cola sign over the highway, just because people will be able to see it facing the sign in the same way it is. I strongly believe this should be a town ownership owned sign, no sponsors, because we want total control of the sign and want to be able to put up town information on it. If we offer it out to anyone, they’ll sponsor it and expect to have their name there forever. The Town of Taber should be on that.”
Apparently interpreting this statement as ignorance on the part of Brewin about the sponsorship process, Strojwas made an attempt to explain.
“Just to enlighten Councillor Brewin how sponsorship works, people pay for sponsorship for a number of years, whether it’s five years, or 10 years, whatever money they contribute their name goes underneath the sign. The town will still have total control over it.”
Brewin was visibly irritated by this line of discourse.
“Well, thank you for the enlightenment, but I realize how that works. But I’m still in favour of just the Town of Taber on it and we advertise our town, not Dairy Queen or a bank or something.”
After Tams again endorsed the Taber Community Centre location, Strojwas attempted to throw up a further roadblock.
“I hope we all understand that we’ll have to put new infrastructure in for that sign, because the existing infrastructure may not support the new sign. That’s old technology, it’s definitely going to have to be upgraded.”
Tams was dismissive of this argument.
“No, but the base is there. Running wires up a pole is minor. The base is there.”
According to administration, an LED sign “would increase staff resources as the sign would be electronic and would require management of data on a regular basis.” The data would be transmitted to the sign via a WiFi signal.
CAO Cory Armfelt outlined his vision for the managing of the sign by an outside party, although this suggestion received a luke-warm reception from Strojwas, who suggested the sign’s management could easily be handled internally.
“We would put the sign up, and then we would put a proposal out for somebody to then manage that sign for us — somebody that’s been managing the temporary signs, putting up the church suppers and gymnastics registrations — then they would have the opportunity to bid on managing the content of this sign, as long as it was for non-profit. So it would be facilitating economic development, it would be removing the opportunity for someone to make money off that advertisement. The town would simply put up the infrastructure, clean up that space, and give someone the opportunity to manage that messaging as long as it was not for profit.”
On the topic of sponsorship or promoting town events, by the end of the debate Bekkering had warmed to the idea if only as an opportunity to remove the temporary signs placed at various locations on 50th Street.
“Initially, I was in favour of leaving a town sign with town events only, but now when you think about it, getting rid of those portable signs — they’re an eyesore — and if we could utilize the new sign to get rid of those portable signs I think would be a great step forward. It would sure smarten the place up over on 50th Street.”
In an initial motion put forward by Bekkering, council voted 4-3 to defeat the motion which would have called on administration to investigated the costs and feasibility of the current Taber Community Centre location and the Highway 3 location, with funds to be allocated from the capital budget of $120,000.
In a follow up motion put forward by Tams, council voted 5-2 to direct administration to draft an request for proposals for the Taber Community Centre location (‘Coca-Cola’ sign). Coun. Carly Firth and Mayor Andrew Prokop opposed the motion.