Hamilton

Hamilton moves ahead with sign critics say looks too much like Toronto's

It didn't go through the usual public art process, and some say it's copying Toronto. But Hamilton city councillors still voted Thursday to install a selfie-friendly "HAMILTON" sign in front of city hall.

Mayor says it'll be an eye-catching draw in front of Hamilton's city hall

In an artist's rendering, the proposed sign is seen illuminated in front of Hamilton's city hall. (City of Hamilton)

It didn't go through the usual public art process, and some say it's copying Toronto. But Hamilton city councillors still voted Thursday to install a selfie-friendly "HAMILTON" sign in front of city hall.

With a sign that says 'Hamilton,' there are only so many ways you can go.- Mayor Fred Eisenberger

The sign will cost about $250,000, all privately donated, said Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who spearheaded the project. City council's public works committee unanimously approved it Thursday.

The letters will be about 2.25 metres tall, two metres deep and 20 metres long, a city report says.

The letters will be hollow so people can stand in them, and coloured lights illuminating the sign can change according to holiday or event, Eisenberger said.

Toronto installed a similar set of letters at Nathan Phillips Square in 2015. But Eisenberger insists Hamilton's is original. It'll be lit different colours, and people can see through them to city hall.

Toronto installed a sign at Nathan Phillips Square in 2015. (David Donnelly/CBC)

"It also looks like Amsterdam's and Brisbane's and Nice's and Hollywood's," he said of the charge that it looks too much like Toronto's. "With a sign that says 'Hamilton,' there are only so many ways you can go."

'Desperate to fit in'

"I'm pretty comfortable with the design."

The HAMILTON design reveals just how desperate we are to fit in.- Sylvia Nickerson

Not everyone was. The city chose Hamilton Scenic Specialty Inc. of Dundas to designed manufacture and install the sign without the usual bidding process.

"To me, nothing undermines my public trust more than for that civic body to agree to install a prominent piece of public art (even if it is 'free') without any formalized public consultation process, nor an open call for submissions," local artist Sylvia Nickerson said in a letter to councillors. She also said it seems designed to fulfil the "ever-present need for Hamilton boosterism."

Other cities - like Hollywood, Calif. - have signs that show their names in block letters too, says Mayor Fred Eisenberger. He was responding to critics who say Hamilton's sign looks too much like Toronto's sign. (Shutterstock / Supannee Hickman)

And local artists, she said, could come up with a more original concept. This sign is "selfie bait," she said, and "about as memorable a piece of public art as that selfie was the day after."

"The HAMILTON design reveals just how desperate we are to fit in," she said.

A story about the proposed sign by CBC drew hundreds of comments from readers, with many suggesting the city hall forecourt was the wrong place. Many thought the waterfront or even along the escarpment brow were better places for this kind of sign. 

'A wonderful selfie opportunity'

City councillors say there's no time for the usual public art process, which includes multiple idea submissions and a public vote. Businesses are donating it as a Canada 150 gift, Eisenberger said. It should be done this year.

Jason Farr, Ward 2 councillor, said he received two emails from concerned artists. But like his fellow councillors, he liked the sign.

"This will be a wonderful selfie opportunity, to say the least," he said.

City council still has to vote to ratify the concept Friday.

Eisenberger said his original plan was to install a portable sign at one of Hamilton's gateway entrances, but that proved more complicated.

For years, city council bandied about the idea of spending $230,000 each for gateway signs on the highway, and at one point even held a public vote on a design. But that was scrapped because of the cost.

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC

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