Minus digital aspects, sign advances

By Corene Brisendine

An effort to put a “Welcome to Manhattan” sign atop an old bridge pier near the Kansas River southeast of the city has been informally endorsed by the Kansas Department of Transportation. Now city and county officials have to decide how serious they are about it.

That discussion is expected to take pace during an intergovernmental meeting Thursday. Although city officials indicate they do not expect opposition to the proposal, which is being led by three Manhattan residents, who plan to fund the project via donations.

Backers of the idea estimate that construction of the sign would cost about $50,000.

The idea of a welcome sign atop the piers has been discussed since a bridge that crossed the river atop the piers was removed years ago. Blaine Thomas lobbied for preservation and use of the piers, citing their art deco style. The effort today is being led by Bart Thomas, Blaine’s son, along with Phil Anderson and former county commissioner Jim Williams.

City manager Ron Fehr said that neither the city nor the county owns the piers, which are actually part of Kansas Department of Transportation’s easement for the highway. KDOT officials have indicated that the sign can be built, but they will not allow the use of either digital or LED messaging.

That will require some adjustments to the proponents’ hopes, because the most recent design for the sign put together by Bart Thomas, with the help of Jim Wells, an employee at Thomas Sign, included a LED portion. It had been intended to advertise non-profit events in Manhattan.

Anderson said the space where the LED was planned to be will be left empty in hope on the chance that KDOT policy is some day changed. 

Anderson said once local approval is in place, backers plan to move forward with efforts to raise the $50,000 needed to restore the east piers and build the sign. He said they will probably solicit local businesses for the funds, but they might need to get a professional fundraiser involved. 

Anderson said Bart Thomas intends to maintain the sign after it has been built.

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