Years in the making, it will be rolled out in phases
PASO ROBLES — The City of Paso Robles has begun installing wayfinding signage, nearly 20 years after the idea was first proposed in the community.
According to local lore, Gary Eberle and Tom Martin started dreaming of making Paso Robles a tourism destination in the early 1990s. They teamed with the local business community to think of ways to get people to stop in Paso Robles for more than just a tank of gas.
At that time, small agricultural communities were struggling statewide and Paso Robles had a small group of community leaders working to ensure the town would thrive. Among such ideas as a wine festival and a Visitors Bureau, they envisioned eventually installing signage that would draw visitors in from Highway 46 East and Highway 101 and direct them to the local wineries (there were about 20 at the time).
The idea for visitor signage was discussed again in the late-90s by the Paso Robles Visitors and Conference Bureau, but funds never materialized before it closed operations in 2004. The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance was able to install directional signs in a few key areas that would direct visitors already in town to the wineries outside of town.
During the time the City oversaw tourism operations from 2007 to 2017, its Promotions Coordinating Committee recommended a community-wide wayfinding signage program to build on the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance’s efforts and to highlight other attractions in Paso Robles, including the downtown, parks, and the Event Center.
By 2009, when a group of Paso Robles hotel owners formed a Business Improvement District under City auspices and the Travel Paso Robles Alliance (TPRA) was created to market Paso Robles as a tourist destination, Paso Robles had gained quite a bit of recognition from wine aficionados. However, few potential visitors could locate it on a map. So a wayfinding signage plan was drafted. Unfortunately, this had to be put on hold from 2010 to 2016 during the Great Recession and subsequent City recovery.
By 2016 when the community, City and TPRA again began discussing wayfinding signage, tourism had been established as one of the major pillars of the Paso Robles economy. The local business community saw wayfinding signage as a way to help protect against another recession by ensuring travelers knew what attractions Paso Robles had to offer in addition to wine, such as our historic downtown, visitor center, and family-friendly parks.
Before the TPRA separated from the City in 2017, its board requested that the City create and install wayfinding signage and later contributed $60,000 to help underwrite the project’s cost.
The City began Wayfinding Signage Community Stakeholders meetings in October 2017 and engaged experienced wayfinding sign designer Pierre Rademaker. The Planning Commission approved the designs and plan in May of 2018 and by City Council in June of 2018.
City funding priorities kept the plan on hold until a request for bids went out in June of 2019. Council approved a contract in November 2019, and fabrication of signs was underway when the pandemic hit.
Budget reductions due to the pandemic put all inessential City spending on hold until the 2021 budget was approved in June of this year. City Council opted to allow the wayfinding signage project to proceed, knowing that economic recovery would be difficult after the pandemic. Fabrication of the signs was completed over the past few months and the first signs are now being installed. A total of 34 signs in varying sizes are being installed (map of locations) and will direct motorists from the highways to the downtown, visitor center, and public parking.
“Money is tight for all of us, but this is an investment by Travel Paso and the City in our community’s future,” said City Manager Tom Frutchey. “The timing of these signs must seem incongruous to some people, but we must do everything we can to be ready for the end of the pandemic so that we can get people back working and bring local businesses back from near ruin.”