Lakewood looks to make good first impression with new entrance

Joan Cooley drives through the intersection of Bridgeport Way and Pacific Highway every day. Whether she’s headed to the gym or the store, she has to pass the sprawling Lakewood intersection crowded with utility poles, wires and commercial advertising — all visual distractions that lack a sense of place, she said.

By this time next year, Cooley hopes the intersection will have one more sign, only this one would improve its appearance. Cooley was part of a volunteer committee formed at the Lakewood City Council’s request to design a sign to mark the entrance with the city’s name.

The design will be presented to the City Council for review at its regular meeting Monday.

The committee created four options, but the one recommended to the council spells out “Lakewood” in raised black letters that would be backlit at night. Wide stone pillars would bookend the sign while trees, shrubs and flowers would frame it.

The sign would stand on a city-owned portion of the intersection that’s used to slow traffic on Bridgeport not far from the freeway entrance.

“Instead of looking at the wires, it gives you something to focus on,” Cooley said of the design. “It really makes the statement ‘This is Lakewood.’ It isn’t University Place, it isn’t JBLM. This is Lakewood.”

One reason the city has its sights set on this corridor is because it will likely be heavily used during the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in neighboring University Place.

“We know people are going to be staying in Lakewood and enjoying Lakewood and our restaurants and shops,” said Mary Dodsworth, director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services. “First impressions matter.”

Dodsworth facilitated the committee and, if the council approves the sign, she will be tasked with finding the money to build it. She doesn’t have a cost estimate yet.

But improving Lakewood’s entrances goes beyond appealing to tourists in town to see the world’s best golfers, Dodsworth said.

The City Council and City Manager John Caulfield want to change people’s perception of Lakewood, tarnished from previous years when gang violence and crime made headlines. Lakewood leaders want to re-brand the city to bring in more people. They’re also trying to grow the city’s middle class to lessen the income disparity between neighborhoods.

City officials feel adding decorative entrance signs is one small step in that direction.

“Turning around some of these gateways and entrances into our city is an important step in making Lakewood everything it can be,” said Lakewood resident Jason Gerwina member of the sign committee and chairman of the city’s parks and recreation advisory board.

“Ultimately it would be nice to have all of our entries have a consistent look and vibrancy,” Gerwin said, adding that some areas need more help than others.

The committee’s design for the Bridgeport Way entrance can be scaled or adapted for some of the city’s other 10 entrances. Current signs range from a recently updated entrance along Bridgeport Way heading into University Place to a simple blue metal sign on the side of a residential street that likely dates back to the city’s incorporation.

The signs would be phased in over time, but Dodsworth said there’s a push to get as many done as possible to create a cohesive feel.

The city is open to partnerships with business and property owners, she said. In some cases, she added, signs might be better suited for private property, if an owner is willing.