During the regular meeting of the Claremore City Council on Monday, August 20, city councilors argued for more than 25 minutes over the purchase of a boulder welcome sign at the City’s south entrance along Highway 66.
“The one that is there currently is quite old. It’s covered up by trees,” said Tanya Andrews, director of Visit Claremore. “This current project, as it is now, would be a little bit further south than where the current sign is.”
“This is a similar design to what we did in Stampede Park for Clem McSpadden. This will be a little bit larger in size and girth,” said City Manager Jim Thomas. “This will weigh about 23,000 pounds. The one for Clem was about 9,000.”
The sign incorporates the Cherokee Nation logo.
“We’re hoping that they are going to partner with us on this as they did with the Stampede Park one,” Thomas said.
The sign also highlights Route 66, which Thomas said is due to they're not being enough identification through Claremore that drivers are on 66.
The proposed image also included plans for a waterfall. The waterfall would require a 750 gallon underground tank to recirculate water. It would have LED lights and ground lights shining up on the boulder.
The back of the stone has an image of Will Rogers riding a horse on top of a hill.
“It’s gone through at least a dozen revisions, but I felt as though it’s a big statement for the city of Claremore and we’re truly building a new city today in 2018,” Thomas said. “We stayed away from logos and marques and tried to make it generic, just to make it as a welcome to Claremore and set a tone as you come into the city.”
In the last 15 years we have gone through three or four different logos, Andrews said, and they wanted the sign to last significantly longer than the typical marketing length of a logo.
Patrick Drake of Boulder Designs in Tulsa gave a presentation of his proposed design.
“Our product is concrete-based. We don’t just have a mold and back a concrete truck up and dump. It’s actually handmade,” Drake said. “Every one of them is different. I could try to make an exact duplicate of McSpadden’s rock and it wouldn’t come out the same.”
Boulder Designs said they could give the city a 10 year warranty and a maintenance program. The city would be responsible for filling and maintaining the fountain.
“What about freezing?” asked Ward 1 Councilor Scott Savage.
“My pond guy, says that as long as it’s running it shouldn’t ever freeze. Now it’ll leave frozen water on there, but when the water hits it it will help melt that,” Drake said.
“When the Highway 20 overpass comes across, how’s that going to affect visibility?” Hays asked.
“That’s a part of the conversation we’ve had with the engineer over at ODOT,” Thomas said. “They know where the road is coming over and we’ve talked about a couple of locations.” Hays said, “If we’re going to spend this kind of money we want it where it can be seen.”
Andrews showed the council a map depicting the proposed location.
“I’d like to make a couple statements,” Ward 2 Councilor Justin Michael interjected. “First of all, the sign over at the Stampede is beautiful. I like it for the Stampede. But, I don’t like this for Claremore. There is nothing about a rock that says Claremore. We don’t have boulders in Claremore. I don’t like the waterfall. I don’t like the money.”
“I think, frankly, we’ve spent enough money in Claremore recently,” Michael said, raising his voice. “I don’t think the citizens want to hear that I spent $50,000 of their money for a rock, or for a boulder, or for a waterfall, or for anything.”
Michael recommended updating and maintaining the sign that currently exists along that roadway as an alternative.
“Are the Cherokees going to help pay for it?” Ward 2 Councillor Will DeMier asked.
Andrews said that she had a meeting with a Cherokee councilor, and that he was happy to help, but that they couldn’t make a commitment.
“I wonder if it’s premature at this time,” DeMier said. “Once we vote on this, and people ask me ‘how much money is this going to cost?’ What do I say to them? ‘I don’t know’.”
“Mr. Thomas would like to have this done and complete, and the project installed and ready to introduce it to the community by the end of October,” Andrews said. “This is why we’re before you now. Because we are in that time period where Patrick needs time to actually do the design work.”
Andrews said that in her talks with Cherokee officials, they mentioned that it might be nice to include the Cherokee word “Osiyo” above the “Welcome to Claremore".
“I think that kind of changes a lot too,” Michael said. “No disrespect on anybody, but if we’re going to put ‘Osiyo’ on top of 'Welcome to Claremore,' that’s even more of a statement, that means I want to pay significantly less for it, because I think if they’re wanting that as a bigger part and above everything else, than that’s more of a Cherokee Nation thing than a Claremore thing.”
“But it wouldn’t be there if the Cherokee Nation didn’t …,” Savage interjected.
“But we don’t know if they’re going to,” Michael said.
“My question to Jim is, why are we in such a hurry?” Savage asked.
“I just found out that they have a period of time before elections that they don’t spend money on projects like this,” Thomas said. “The Cherokees have been very good since I’ve been here. We’ve done a number of projects together. I don’t doubt the Chief Baker or Councilman Austin are going to help support this. To what magnitude, I don’t know.”
Thomas said, “I think we need a better statement coming into Claremore. The wooden sign was produced about 15 years ago. It’s a distraction. It’s not pleasant. It doesn’t say what Claremore is trying to do. It doesn’t talk about our future. I think that’s what we’re trying to do is talk about our future.”
“How does this talk about our future?” Michael asked, gesturing to the image of the rock on the screen above their heads. “What is it doing different? It says the exact same thing. It says ‘Welcome to Claremore’ and the old one says ‘Claremore welcomes you.’ There is nothing about our future.”
Thomas responded, “I guess, I’m talking as an outsider coming in, when I see this coming into a community, it says to me there is something new there. They are building. It’s a powerful statement about ‘Welcome to Claremore’ ... it’s an entryway, it’s a gateway, and it’s something that we can all be proud of.”
“I’m not native to Oklahoma, but I’m proud to be a part of the Cherokee Nation,” Thomas said.
“I am too,” Michael said, indicating that including the Cherokee Nation so prominently would mean that he would expect an equally prominent portion of the bill paid. However, he said, that isn’t his real issue with the project.
“For $5,000 we could have someone redo the wood sign. What other sign options have been discussed? Is this the only one? I just think we’ve spent a lot of money recently, we’ve got an audit coming up, $50,000 is more than I’m willing to spend.” Michael said.
“Can I say one thing in response to what you were saying about not needing this?” Drake asked. “I understand that. I’m a small town guy. I’m from Mannford, Okla. When we put these in cities, a lot of times they become a focal point. I know the picture doesn’t look impressive, but this is going to be 16 feet wide, 8 feet tall. Even without the waterfall, people are going to be attracted to that. And when they stop to take pictures, they are going to want to take a selfie with your rock, and that creates more interest in Claremore.”
Drake said that his company was doing two such rocks in Okmulgee, after their old wooden signs were destroyed by storms. DeMier and Kirtley highlighted alternative signage examples in Tulsa and Bartlesville.
He said the message of the rock is, “We’re here to stay. We’re rock solid. And it gives people a place to associate themselves with Claremore. It’s going to be on everybody’s Facebook when they do a selfie and people are going to ask, ‘Well where’s Claremore at?’ It’s obviously on Route 66.”
“And this is going to last forever. You don’t ever have to worry about this. And there is no wind that is going to blow it over. If a tornado comes through, that’s not going to tear it up. This you don’t have to worry about. It’s going to be 16 inches thick so it’s never going anywhere.” Drake said.
“What about cars, since it’s in the center of the median?” Ward 4 Councilor Herb McSpadden asked.
Drake said the project was with ODOT’s safety formula.
“Where would you stop to take a selfie?” Savage asked.
“Well you could go up to the turn-around or you could park across the street,” Drake said.
“People may come and take selfies on it, that would be great, but I don’t want them taking selfies out there on 66. That’s dangerous. I don’t want to promote them doing that,” Michael said.
“ODOT owns the land, so what’s our legal agreement with ODOT as far as the land that it’s going on and the easements?” Mayor Bill Flanagan asked. “Are we going to have a lease with ODOT?”
“We maintain the land now,” Thomas said.
“Still, in case ODOT ever needed that land, what happens to the monument?” Flanagan asked.
“It is movable,” Drake said.
City Attorney Bryan Drummond said, “The key is, it’s ODOT property. They allow us to put it on there. And you’re right, if they ever decide to expand 66 then we have to move the monument someplace else.”
“So instead of saying no, what if we tabled it until we learn more about what the Cherokees are going to do?” Michael asked.
Michael also wanted to get an estimate of the cost without a waterfall and wanted to ensure new road construction wouldn’t lead to the sign being blocked or irrelevant.
“Tanya, we do know how much the waterfall costs?” DeMier asked.
“The project without the waterfall would be a little over $39,000,” Andrews said.
“I kind of agree with some comments,” Hays said. “To me that waterfall is not real appealing.”
“Councilman Michael, this has been budgeted in the 2019 budget. What if I propose that we have a cap of $35,000,” Thomas said.
“I don’t like it. I just don’t like it,” Michael said. “I’m sorry. I don’t like the idea. I wish I could have seen other ideas, or something. But, I don’t like the big rock. I took pictures over at the Stampede. That thing is sharp over there. But for the entrance to town, I just don’t like it.”
Ward 2 Councilor Brian Callender asked, “Is there a reason not to open this up to another, like our own sign company here in town and see if he can get some idea for us and some thought? I’m not opposed to this because I like the rock, but let’s see if there is something better that we like more.”
“This type of boulder sign, there is only one company in Oklahoma that does this,” Andrews said. “So if we’re going to go out for other ideas, that would be up to Mr. Thomas. This was where he was headed with this project.”
She mentioned that there are plans to create a new LED sign for the expo center soon which should cost $50,000.
Hays asked if the city would eventually do this on all of its entrances.
“Signage is always an issue. It always has to be maintained. It always has to be updated,” Andrews said.
“I don’t have a big problem with the rock...,” Savage said. “I question the placing of the sign. I just don’t think we’re ready to make a decision. I’d just like to table it and discuss it some more.”
“If that’s a motion I second it,” DeMier said. “I think a sign is a good idea, but right now we would probably vote no, not because we’re so against it, but because of the lack of information. There is so much more to explore.”
Flanagan said that with all the new road construction planned in the next few years, he doesn’t want to misplace the sign.
“I think we need a little more time to look this over and refine it,” Flanagan said.