Love it or hate it, the new Seymour welcome sign near Interstate 65 is causing a lot of buzz around town.
Construction of the 13-foot wall and sign with surrounding landscaping, located on the north side of U.S. 50 just west of the interstate exchange, was completed in late November at a cost of about $1 million.
Some residents in the city about 60 miles south of Indianapolis have balked at the expense and say the money should have been spent elsewhere to improve local roads and parks. But others say the sign is an eye-catching way to make a good impression on guests.
Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman said he knows he can't please everyone.
"Good and bad, I like to do things that catch people's attention," he told The Tribune.
He also wants to do anything he can to draw more traffic from the interstate further into Seymour to explore the downtown and the city's other unique offerings. With more traffic coming in, there are more opportunities to attract new restaurants and businesses, he added.
Stu Silver, a retired Seymour Community Schools teacher, said he is glad to see efforts being made by the city to make a better impression on people.
"We are trying to do something to get people to stop and check out Seymour," he said of the sign. "You have to start somewhere. At least they are trying."
The majority of funding for the welcome sign came from a state grant, Luedeman said, and was specifically designated by the Indiana Department of Transportation for the project.
"This is money that could have went to Columbus or Indianapolis, but it didn't," he said. "So we took it and ran with it."
The city chipped in with about $165,000 in taxpayers' money from the general fund and TIF revenue from the redevelopment commission as matching funds, he added.
Besides being outdated and in disrepair, Luedeman said the old welcome sign, which was in the same location between Tipton Street and Sandy Creek Drive, often went unnoticed.
Designed by Indianapolis-based Rundell Ernstberger Associates, the new sign and wall consist of a large metal sculpted mural that incorporates different images related to Seymour, including a locomotive, an airplane propeller and corn to recognize the importance and impact of the railroads, aviation and agriculture on the city.
Other icons depicted are a guitar and music notes in honor of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Mellencamp, a pageant queen's crown for 2009 Miss America Katie Stam, the Seymour High School bell tower, the Blish Mill grain silos and a downtown landscape.
Additional enhancements include landscaping with colorful perennials that will be planted in the spring and summer, new trees, shrubbery, wildflowers and sod. Those additions will be more apparent after winter and will be maintained by the city's department of public works.
At night, the sign is lit up with bright lights that change color, creating a dramatic silhouette.
It's just as much a piece of art as it is a welcome sign and identification marker, Luedeman said.
Rex Schroer of Freetown said he has passed by the sign and is worried that it could distract motorists and cause a wreck.
"I can just see people looking at the lights at night, not paying attention to traffic stopped at the light and oops, bam, crash," he said.
Other complaints about the sign are that the mural is too busy, making it hard to make out what is on it, and the lights change colors too quickly. Some say the lights do not allow the whole sign to be seen at night.
But Luedeman said he is pleased with the design and how the sign came out.
"They engineered a sign that incorporates a lot of our history and the positive things that have happened in Seymour," he said. "People can identify with the things on the sign."
He agreed the lights change colors a little too quickly at night, and he planned to talk with engineers about slowing them down.
Some who don't like the sign say it's not enough to make an impact.
"It's too big and too ugly," said Pam Weddel of Seymour. "It will take more than a sign to get people to want to live here."
Mike Davis of Seymour added the city needs to have better priorities when spending money.
"Maybe focus on more important tasks at hand instead of starting with the easy stuff that doesn't make any difference," he said.
Seymour resident Mindy Thompson agreed, saying the sign is in bad taste.
"It looks like bad graffiti that, even now, is about 25 years out of date," she said. "It makes me cringe."
Kim Brown of Seymour said she likes seeing the new sign and it's much better than what was there before.
"I think it looks great," she said. "That side of town is where tourists come in from the interstate, and who wants to come into a city with a hand-painted sign? I think it adds a lot of class to the city."
Luedeman said he would like to see the rest of the cloverleaf area around the interstate improved with more landscaping and maintenance, but said most of the area is owned by the state.
The sign is the first phase of a much larger Gateway Project Luedeman first proposed in 2010. Plans for the second phase to transform a parking lot and former rail yard into a downtown arrival park have been put on hold for now.
Although funding was in place to begin the $2 million park, Luedeman said the city has not been able to work out a deal to purchase the property from owner Dick Elmore.
He said the city may have to look for another location for the park.
The Gateway Project also includes a third phase, improvements and additions to Freeman Field Park. Those ideas also have been delayed indefinitely to focus on other projects in the city such as widening and improving West Second Street and expanding the sewer collection system on the city's southwest side.
Ultimately, Luedeman said his goal is to create a walking trail connecting the east side of Seymour to the downtown and then take the trail south toward Freeman Field Park and loop it back around to connect to a future south extension of Burkart Boulevard.
Former Seymour resident Donna Baulos said the new sign was one of the first things she saw when she came home for Thanksgiving.
"I like it," she said. "A great start for everything else that is going on in Seymour. I can't wait to see the future improvements. I know it won't happen overnight, but it's a great beginning."