The city is still looking at installing a $230,000 welcome sign on the outskirts of Hamilton, but it might change the design a little.

In a report to councillors Wednesday, staff recommend tweaking the white block letters design so the sign will stand out more. The design change might also reduce the cost.

Passersby will struggle to see the pale steel letters during the winter, the report suggests, so council should consider blending in elements of the blue-and-yellow corporate logo. The city is also looking at the size and material of the sign to see if it can trim the cost.

The public voted on the current design in 2008. Laura Babcock, a local activist who initiated the sign campaign, hopes any alternate options will respect that.

But “from the very beginning, I’m not as concerned with exactly how the sign looks,” she said. “My concern is we’re missing thousands of brand impressions every day.”

The issue of a gateway sign has been on and off the city’s radar for at least seven years. Babcock, who owns a local public relations firm, resurrected it last year with a social media campaign that used the Twitter hashtag #Time4Sign.

Councillors voted last September to erect a welcome sign before the 2015 Pan Am Games, which will be partially in Hamilton. But some balked in May when staff estimated it would cost $230,000 to do it.

The final design doesn’t matter, said Coun. Sam Merulla of Ward 4. As long as the cost is more than $50,000, he won’t support it.

“I think $50,000 is a reasonable amount of money for a sign,” he said. “With all the other pressing issues we have, the whole project is irresponsible at this point.”

The staff report also suggests saving money by putting the sign near Highway 403 and 6 where crews can access it from Old Guelph Road, which would reduce the cost. The initial report suggested having it on Highway 403 closer to the view of Cootes Paradise. 

David Zimmer, a senior landscape architect in the city’s planning and economic development department, is looking at the sign design to see how it could be built cheaper. The city doesn’t have the in-house resources to build the sign itself, staff say.

The city has also been working with Babcock on a sponsorship campaign to lower costs. Babcock, who is donating her efforts, says it could work.

“It’s been my experience in the past with other ventures that when it’s an issue of civic pride, when it’s a significant milestone, people want to be a part of that,” she said.

“They want their names on a plaque that says they participated in welcoming people to Hamilton.”

Coun. Jason Farr of Ward 2, a sign supporter, wants to keep elements of the old design to respect the nearly 100 residents who voted for it. He says Ministry of Transportation guidelines favour simple designs that don't distract drivers.

"You don’t want fireworks and waterfalls and kids doing hula hoop contests," he said. "You have to keep it fairly simple."

"I like the eight very simple block letters." 

The general issues committee will vote on the report on Wednesday.