Johns Creek seeks signs of identity

Johns Creek officials are considering spending as much as $290,000 for stone gateway signs at 13 key entrance points, anchors they say will help brand the 4-year-old city with a sense of identity.

Proponents see them as an opportunity to sell the city to new businesses and visitors.

Resident Mark Endres, though, sees them as vanity plates, a frivolous expense at a time of economic hardship.

"I would really like for you to understand that you're not spending city money. You're spending our money," Endres told the council at a recent meeting. "You're spending money that is coming out of our pockets."

The city council will hold a public hearing on the proposal at its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

Estimates for the project range from $221,000 to $290,000, depending on the design.

They would have a stacked stone facade, a touch designers say fits with several buildings around town. They may also include a gas or electric carriage light for illumination.

At their Aug. 16 meeting, city council members voiced interest in the project, though the enthusiasm was not unanimous.

Councilman Dan McCabe said he is concerned the city could oversell itself with branding efforts.

"I do believe in a branding campaign. I do believe in community identity, but I don't want to go overboard at all on this," he said.

Mayor Mike Bodker said he thinks it is vital the city draw smart commercial growth. Distinctive branding, such as gateway signs, will help, he said.

"When I think about what makes our city sustainable in the long term, it's diversification of the tax base, it's reducing the burden that is on the 85 percent of our city, which is the residents," he said.

The city took residents' comments on its website this week. So far, 74 people have taken the survey, most in favor of the signs, according to communications manager Doug Nurse.

The city has budgeted $25,000 for the design and has already paid Sky Design $13,968 for its work to date. The Atlanta-based environmental design firm will not do detailed construction drawings until a final sign is selected.

A horizontal stone and wood marker, 33 feet long and 9 feet tall, is estimated to cost about $35,000. Vertical structures, about 12 feet tall with wood accents, would cost $17,000 each.

Funding would come from the city's capital improvement fund.

Even if council members wanted to, the city could not choose the more expensive horizontal signs at all 13 entry points. Their size alone would overrun available right-of-way and violate DOT regulations. Placing a sign in the median isn't allowed.

Because of the restrictions, the latest city plan calls for four horizontal and nine vertical signs.

Proponents say the signs will pay dividends in the way of economic development for the north Fulton city.

"These are tough economic times, and all things being equal, this is going to be a hard thing to justify," said Linda Westcott-Johnson who serves on the board of Johns Creek Beautification. "But I also believe the mayor and council have been responsible and have shown good judgment on what they spend in this city."

Johnson said the signs are chiefly for the residents, to give them a sense of ownership. They should include representations of the city's historic architecture and incorporate elements of the area's American Indian heritage, she said.

"I don't really think there's a good or bad time for this kind of thing," she said. "The city has to continue to move forward and establish its own identity. This is a part of that."