CARLSBAD — Carlsbad City Council approved a historic sign replica to arc across Carlsbad Boulevard on Tuesday night against the recommendations of city staff, the Planning Division, and the Arts Commission to deny the donation.
“It’s the universal symbol of you’ve arrived, this is our downtown,” said Councilmember Michael Schumacher.
The Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce, at the urging of former chamber board Chairman Carlton Lund, offered to donate a welcome archway sign at the southern entrance to downtown Carlsbad Village.
The approximately 30-foot-tall sign’s design features “Carlsbad” written in white letters that would be illuminated with LED lighting on a dark blue background. Originally the design also incorporated two five-foot sculptures of a dolphin in faux portholes, designed by marine life artist Robert Wyland.
The construction and installation of the sign will cost an estimated $170,000, and is being funded by TaylorMade Golf Company, one of the city’s largest employers.
The city would have to cover nearly $5,000 in annual maintenance costs for the sign.
Minus the dolphin, the sign is similar to the roadway sign that was erected in 1938 at about the same location.
Chamber of Commerce President Ted Owen described the proposal as “a beautiful modern replica of the original sign that sat majestically over Coast Highway.”
“This is to let people know, you’re in the heart of the city now,” said Mike Howes, who has overseen the sign proposal for the Chamber.
Yet, the Arts Commission unanimously deemed that the sign’s design, particularly the Wyland dolphin sculpture, was too commercial and lacked originality when reviewing the proposal in December. The Commission determined that the sign and its proposed location were not appropriate for the Village even if the dolphin was removed.
Arts Commission Chair Tina Schmidt expressed to council that even without the “cartoonish” dolphin, the sign, “fails on aesthetic quality and has little artistic merit. A little tacky.”
The city’s Planning Division also concluded that the sign does not match the Village aesthetic and is too similar to the downtown sign in Encinitas over Coast Highway 101.
Both the Arts Commission and the Planning Division supported the redesign of the sign and inclusion of public artwork from a local artist.
The Chamber in turn revised the sign design by eliminating the dolphin sculpture.
Owen also suggested that the donation from TaylorMade Golf Company may not be available a year from now because the company’s CEO, who promised the sign funds, is leaving to work for Adidas.
Despite the opposition, council determined that the sign is a needed beacon for the city’s downtown district.
“For every negative letter I heard (about the sign), I probably got five or six positive ones,” said Schumacher.
The city received about nine positive written comments about the sign, mostly from Chamber members, and one negative. Three of the five speakers at the City Council meeting spoke against the sign.
“When I saw the picture of what it looks like at night, it’s great. I think this is something that people will want to have their pictures taken there,” said Councilmember Lorraine Wood.
City Council unanimously approved the sign with a 4-0 vote. Mayor Matt Hall recused himself because he owns property near the sign’s location.
Lund said he was relieved to have the sign approved at last. He first brought a proposal for a downtown sign before the city in 2001, but council rejected the plans.
“People are going to love this sign,” he said.
He expressed hope that he will be able to install “kindness meters” near the sign for people to donate to the Carlsbad Charitable Foundation and cover the cost of lighting the sign. The meters will include the Wyland dolphin, which Lund affectionately calls “Darlene.”
“You can’t make all of the people happy,” Owen said.
He said construction of the sign will take a matter of months and that the sign could be installed before the end of the year.
Owen added that the sign supporters were prepared to appeal if council denied the sign.
“We wouldn’t have given up,” he said.