The cost of signage: Businesses pay less to install, maintain monument signs

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

STEVENSVILLE — Weighing costs is the price of doing business. Such is the case for some incoming Lincoln Township businesses.

The township’s Planning Commission held a public hearing in December to consider amending regulations for signs within the zoning ordinance along the Red Arrow Highway district. The intent of the amendment is to have businesses install monument signs in the community, as opposed to the tall expressway signs that can be seen from Interstate 94. The ordinance would reduce and potentially eliminate tall signs along Red Arrow over time.

Businesses have already begun to make the switch through recommendations by building officials and because monument signs are significantly cheaper and easier to maintain.

Frank Beltran, manager of Candlewood Suites on Marquette Woods Road in Stevensville, said the hotel plans to renovate this spring. Among the changes to the hotel’s exterior will be its 50-foot sign. Beltran said he was told a new expressway sign could cost up to $100,000.

“The cost to replicate our sign the way it is now is going to cost more than to build a whole new monument sign,” he said. “An expensive part that many people don’t take into account is the pole. The pole is not cheap and neither is the installation.”

William Shields, owner of The Sign Shop in Kalamazoo, has been installing monument signs in Southwest Michigan since 1985. Shields said the price difference between the two signs can be large.

Shields said he has seen tall expressway signs in heavy trafficked areas cost as high as $250,000 to install. The monument signs Shields puts in alongside local roads cost $15,000 to $40,000. Shields said more business are going the monument route paired with LED lights and other light-emitting dials on its interface.

This is especially true for gas stations, which often change gas prices daily.

“Most businesses don’t have the funds to erect an expressway sign, so this is a good alternative,” Shields said. “Expenses add up with any type of sign because they’re two sided.”

Garnering attention

Businesses that have already installed monument signs in Lincoln Township and Stevensville include the Tyler Honda Dealership, BP and Mobil gas stations.

Paul Gautam, who is a part owner of the BP gas station, said he was told to limit his sign to no higher than eight feet from ground level.

“I believe it’s affecting local businesses a lot,” Gautam said. “These signs are not visible from 200 to 300 feet down the road. You’ll pass us, especially since we are near a stop light.”

Prior to opening this past summer, the BP gas station on Glenlord Road and Red Arrow served as a Mobil gas station. When Gautam and his business partner begun onsite construction work, it seemed like an easy fix to update the tall gas station sign on the corner.

Upon learning they couldn’t update the tall sign, Gautam said they decided to install two monument signs on either side of the corner they would ensure they didn’t lose any traffic.

Each monument sign cost Gautam about $23,000, with a total cost coming close to $50,000 when factoring in labor and materials. Had they been able to update the old sign – by buying new plates and adding LED lights – Gautam said they would have paid $3,500.

“I think the short signs are not a bad idea – they actually look really nice and are easy to repair and maintain since you don’t have bring the lift trucks in,” Gautam said. “The only thing is, you have to have a certain amount of signs to let people know you are here, which we are not allowed to do. That’s the only thing I am worried about.”

Making things right

Maintenance and longevity of the sign’s installation are other factors Shields says he reminds his clients of.

For hotels and restaurants with towering signs, it can be hard to find companies with the proper repair equipment.

“Signs along expressways have to be tall enough off the ground to be seen,” Shields said. “We don’t install those kind of signs because they’re so tall you need a crane.”

Beltran said their future monument sign will be easier to maintain because there are no more area businesses that have cranes.

Despite the high prices, Shields said there will always be a need for expressway signs. Especially for smaller towns trying to attract potential visitors.

“On local roads with slower speeds, you can have a smaller sign. On a county road where (the speed limit) is 50 mph, your letters have got to be bigger,” Shields said. “There will always be a need for those expressway signs. You have to think about senior citizens who don’t use phones to find a gas station and the safe driver who puts their phone away while driving.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Jan. 19, 2016)

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