Inuvik will forge ahead with plans for its new Gateway welcome sign after a lengthy debate on the topic during Wednesday’s town council meeting.
In light of recent public backlash, deputy mayor Paul MacDonald raised a motion to halt the process of constructing the sign for two weeks so straw polls determining whether residents liked the design could be conducted.
The polls would help council assess whether the backlash was representative of the community’s opinion as a whole.
“I think as a council, we have made a mistake with this,” he said, “and we need to cut our losses and start again.
“I’m not looking for a redesign at this point. I want to know from the community, is this what you like? Does this work? Does this meet your expectations for what we’re doing?”
Despite support from councillors Dez Loreen and Ray Solotki, the motion was defeated in a 4-3 vote.
Some residents – including Inuvik artist Ron English – have criticized the town for awarding Nova Scotia-based firm Fathom Studios the design contract rather than relying on local talent, as reported by the CBC on July 4.
The town said it did not receive any local bids. However, both the CBC and Inuvik Drum reported that some residents found the structure of the tender made it difficult for artists in Inuvik to apply.
Others simply didn’t like the design. Both MacDonald and Solotki said they had heard from multiple constituents expressing their discontent.
‘Too far down the line’
Several councillors, however, weren’t convinced any pause in the process was warranted.
Clarence Wood said the town went “above and beyond” its due diligence in public consultations advertised through posters, social media, and the media.
“If you look at the timeline that was presented to all of us, there was ample time for people to put their thoughts together, to protest, or to support the decision we made,” he said. “I don’t know how much more we could have done, to be quite honest.”
Steve Baryluk agreed, reminding council the sign has been approved in two budgets.
“I think we’re too far down the line,” he said. “I think we do have a beautiful and unique sign. I think people will come around to like it a lot more, especially once they learn a lot more about the design elements in it and what they all mean.”
According to design plans included in briefing documents, the sign’s waves mimic local geographic features and the northern lights.
As pointed out by senior administrative officer Grant Hood, more than $100,000 has already been spent on design and roadwork to prepare the sign site – money council cannot get back if it decides to change course.
Councillor Solotki said this was a risk colleagues should be willing to take, especially since the sign has become a hot topic.
“I think that what deputy mayor MacDonald has said is valid, perhaps even just stepping back … and giving an opportunity for a few more public engagement sessions,” she said.
“People maybe weren’t paying attention before. They’re definitely paying attention now.”
MacDonald added that Covid-19 had made 2020 an “economically depressed time.”
“This is our taxpayers who are paying this money for this sign,” he said. “If they don’t like it when they can’t afford to heat their homes, then we have made a huge mistake and I don’t want to go down that road.”
Since MacDonald’s motion was defeated, the sign’s design is officially final.
Hood told council he is in the process of negotiating bids with local contractors for construction and installation of the piece.