News Column

Grant program promotes downtown blade signs

May 4, 2014

By Rex L. Troute, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa

May 04--Shoppers may see a little more personality added to downtown Burlington in the coming months. Downtown Partners Inc. has instituted a business signage grant program to encourage street-level retailers, restaurants and businesses to add perpendicular blade signs to their storefronts for better visability.

"It's going to be great on Jefferson (Street) and places off Jefferson," said Steve Frevert, executive director of Downtown Partners. "It reinforces we are a collection of unique locally owned businesses."

The program has been funded through $5,000 from the John H. Witte Jr. Foundation and $2,500 from the Greater Burlington Partnership's Partnering for the Future II campaign. The maximum a store can receive from the program is $500 as the owner will have to match those funds. Frevert said most signs will cost $500 to $1,000.

"It's a business development tool," Frevert said.

By using blade signage, Frevert believes the program will have a number of benefits for Burlington:

--Accentuating the traditional historic and walkable character of downtown

--Adding to the liveliness of the streetscape

--Increasing business visibility for potential customers

--Encouraging businesses to explore their individuality and examine their branding.

Downtown visitors will not only be able to spot the store they are looking for easier, but maybe stumble onto another store they would like to visit simply because they saw the sign.

The idea for the program was spawned by a visit to a Pella event by Jason Hutcheson, president and CEO of the Greater Burlington Partnership, and Beth Nickel, executive director of the Convention & Visitors Bureau. They heard a speech by Roger Brooks, an expert of tourism, branding and downtown development.

"He talks about how important this signage is for a downtown," Frevert said of Brooks.

Hutcheson came back from hearing Brooks and told Frevert, "We have to do this."

The program became official a couple of weeks ago. There are roughly 190 employers in the downtown area, but DPI emailed the program details to 50 businesses with first-floor storefronts.

"Every downtown business is eligible," Frevert said.

In applying for a grant, a business must meet certain guidelines of the program. The sign must be professionally crafted and be approved by Downtown Partners design committee.

The sign must be constructed of durable material. Custom designed neon signage is allowed.

What is not allowed is fluorescent colors on signs or reader boards or electronic messaging systems.

When installed, the sign must be at least 8 feet above the sidewalk as measured from the bottom edge, and be at least 2 feet back from the curb. Frevert said larger storefronts are capable of putting up larger signs.

The business owner also must get sign and encroachment permits from the city's development department.

Frevert said with its initial funding, the program can help a minimum of 15 businesses with blade signage.

"I can't wait to give this money away," he said.

Some businesses already held off on putting permanent signs flush against their storefronts in order to take part in the program.

Frevert believes the program will be a success and help change the face of downtown Burlington. With that success, he believes Downtown Partners can acquire more funding in the future to help more businesses.

Interested owners can view the business signage grant program at


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Source: Hawk Eye, The (Burlington, IA)

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