Visitors who have a hard time finding their way around Palo Alto City Hall will soon get plenty of help from the city, which is embarking on a $300,000 effort to install a network of signs in and around its primary civic hub.
The ambitious sign program, which is part of a $4.5-million effort to make City Hall more welcoming and inclusive, includes 21 separate signs, including building signs, freestanding signs and direction signs leading people to the Civic Center's underground garage. Among the most visible signs will be a new freestanding monument installed at the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Bryant Street. The gray aluminum sign will be 4 feet 6 inches tall and nearly 14 feet 10 inches wide and will feature the city's logo (the El Palo Alto redwood), the words "City of Palo Alto" and City Hall's address, 250 Hamilton Ave.
The building itself will also feature a prominent new entry sign: illuminated aluminum letters mounted over the front doors. The building's tinted-glass doors, which are currently barely distinguishable from the rest of the glass paneling the monolithic facade, will grow more conspicuous with the words "CITY HALL" hovering above them. A similar sign of the word "POLICE" will be installed in front of the staircase leading to the police headquarters on Forest Avenue.
The parking structure under the building will also become more prominent, with tall, slender freestanding signs directing pedestrians to the King Plaza staircases that lead underground and directing drivers to the garage ramps. There will be six garage signs, with three wall signs near each public entrance.
The master plan has already received some kudos from the city's Architectural Review Board, which reviewed the proposal on July 17 but did not vote on it. The board requested Public Works to provide more options about the sign directly in front of City Hall and to ascertain whether garages need be equipped with signs informing visitors about the electrical-vehicle chargers inside. The discussion will continue on Aug. 21.
Even so, board members were generally enthusiastic about the master-sign program, with Chair Lee Lippert saying he was "very excited" about the proposal and Vice Chair Randy Popp suggesting that the proposal can serve as a template for other sign programs throughout the city. Popp said he was "thrilled" about the clarity and logic of the proposed program.
"We struggle all the time in how to do signage in other city buildings," Popp said. "This to me looks like the solution."
The sign program is part of a broader renovation of City Hall, a $4.5-million project that includes a refurbishment of the small Council Conference Room; the creation of a new public-meeting room next to the City Hall lobby; the relocation of customer-service representatives to the first floor; and a personnel shuffle involving six departments. The project, which began with a proposal to remodel the small conference room and gradually became a ground-floor makeover, was swiftly and unanimously approved by the council on June 16.
As part of the renovation, the city is also spending more than $200,000 on new media art for the refurbished lobby -- an interactive screen that will include photos, information about city services, news feeds and opportunities for visitors to provide feedback. Palo Alto officials have been soliciting proposals for more than a year and have gradually winnowed the artist-applicant pool from 107 to three.
Ultimately, after consultation with various departments, artist Susan Narduli was selected to create the lobby installation. Her proposal, called "Conversation," will "activate the renovated City Hall lobby space, invite visitors to interact with the artwork, and offer a new and exciting art experience for visitors each time they visit City Hall lobby," according to a report that the city's Public Art Commission discussed on July 17. After a brief discussion, the commission unanimously voted to contribute $25,000 from the city's Percent for Art budget for this project.
Commission Vice Chair Ben Miyaji, who took part in the selection process, said the goal is to make visitors feel "welcomed" at the City Hall lobby, which he compared to a "living room."
"(When) you come in, you want to be welcomed and feel like you're kind of at home," Miyaji said. "I feel this is what the project will do."
In addition to the public-art funding, the new-media project will be funded through the city's capital-improvement program and the $150,000 for public art included in the City Hall renovation budget. Narduli will be gathering input from the community as part of her concept development, according to staff. She anticipates it will take about six to eight months before the artwork is ready for installation.