By Ann Marie Shambaugh and Anna Skinner
For the last couple of weeks, many drivers heading south on U.S. 31 have been puzzled by a new, hard-to-miss sign that appears to be welcoming motorists to Westfield just as they enter Carmel.
The structure, which reads “Westfield” on both sides, makes more sense to drivers heading north. Motorists enter Westfield as they pass under the 146th Street bridge just north of the sign. But for those traveling the other direction, the sign has led to some confusion.
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said he called Westfield Mayor Andy Cook to discuss the issue after the Nov. 28 installation of the sign. He said Cook described the situation as “inadvertent” and was open to updating the sign to say “Carmel” on its north face.
“We’re going to use that same vendor and get it fixed,” Brainard said.
Westfield officials, however, said the sign was built correctly and that Carmel officials were aware of the design.
“We did work with Carmel and send them our plans and communicate with them throughout the project. They did ultimately give a blessing on our design prior to us installing it, and that design did include ‘Westfield’ on the north side,” Westfield Director of Public Works Jeremy Lollar said. “I don’t know that anyone recognized that it was going to be such a public outrage, which is when our mayors started conversing.”
Carmel officials refuted some of those claims.
“While the City of Carmel was aware that Westfield was installing a sign pillar with Westfield written vertically as drivers are heading north into Westfield, there was never any indication that words would be placed on any other side of the sign,” Carmel spokesperson Nancy Heck stated in an email.
She also stated that Carmel is planning to add signage on the north-facing side of the 146th Street bridge similar to what Westfield has added on the south-facing side.
Brainard said several years ago he and Cook had discussed adding messaging on the 146th Street bridge to welcome drivers to both cities. He said they decided Carmel and Westfield would split the cost, which is what Brainard said will likely happen with the nearly $300,000 sign built by Indianapolis-based SignWorks.
Brainard said Westfield has already paid for the installation but that Carmel is prepared to reimburse its neighbor to the north.
That was news to Lollar.
“We’re open to allowing them to modify our sign at their expense,” he said. “I have not heard anything about sharing in the cost of the overall project, so I would welcome that.”
The sign was a result of a two-year initiative in Westfield to create a welcome sign to greet drivers along U.S. 31. It’s within Carmel’s borders, but Westfield Communications Director Vicki Duncan Gardner said INDOT gave Westfield permission to place the sign there because it owns the land.
“We chose that location because it is the gateway into Westfield,” she said. “Most of our traffic comes from the south and we wanted a monumental entry.”
The sign is made out of Corten steel with a natural patina to make it appear rustic. According to Duncan Gardner, the material should look the same in 10 years with no upkeep.
“It is great marketing for Westfield,” she said. “Seventy thousand cars a day pass by the location. More importantly, we are proud of this community – past, present and future – and we simply wanted a prominent welcome sign for those who travel through our city.”
SignWorks declined to comment for this story and deferred questions to the City of Westfield.