Love it or not, ‘Love Barrie’ sign gets green light from city council

Councillor Mike McCann must fundraise $200,000 cost of the sign

By a recorded vote of 6-4, Barrie city councillors have signed off on the ‘Love Barrie’ sign at Heritage Park.

Council heard four deputations on Monday, two in opposition to the sign, or at least its location, and two in support.

Councillor Ann-Marie Kungl’s amendment to put the sign at City Hall was defeated, with Mayor Lehman and Councillors Keenan Aylwin and Claire Riepma in favour.

The cost of the eight-foot landmark sign is to be fundraised by Councillor Mike McCann, a commitment of $200,000, and 75 per cent of donations must be paid to the city by October 10.

Barrie sign – image provided

Only then will staff with Access Barrie issue a request for proposal to secure a company that can provide three sign concepts. The landmark sign is to be installed at the waterfront park before July 1, 2022.

McCann tried to drive home to people opposed to the sign or its look that no final design has been chosen.

“Anybody who is debating about the look of the sign, we have no clue what the look of the sign is going to be because we haven’t decided yet on the final picture.”

There is $15,000 to be set aside beginning in 2022 to cover the costs of potential graffiti removal and winter maintenance in and around the sign.

Councillor Sergio Morales reminded council that $30,000 of taxpayer’s money was spent on a Soapbox public art sculpture in February 2020 that generated a lot of controversy, which was comprised of three aluminum crates, powder-coated and painted. He said the ‘Love Barrie’ sign is a privately funded initiative.

Mayor Jeff Lehman voted against the sign, along with Councillors Keenan Aylwin, Claire Riepma and Ann-Marie Kungl.

Councillors Barry Ward, Jeff Harris, Mike McCann, Sergio Morales, Robert Thomson and Gary Harvey gave the sign a thumbs up.

Councillor Natalie Harris was absent.

McCann has previously stated he has at least $100,000 in verbal donations with support from companies and residents who want to be involved in the project.

“To me, this is inspirational,” he told council on Monday. “More importantly than inspirational, it’s fun.”

“It’s surrounded by love, which is the love of Barrie. What it brings is connectivity. That’s what the sign means to me.”

Barrie City Council meeting -June 14 – Councillor Mike McCann (lower left) with ‘Love Barrie’ sign as backdrop

Councillor Jim Harris said there are two groups he has heard from that like the idea of the sign and that’s the business community and the arts community.

“I think what I like about this is the potential for it to be active and dynamic, and to support local art,” said Harris. “In the report it talks about having an art tour included in this particular item. That came from Barrie Public Art and the MacLaren Art Centre’s feedback. That’s not Councillor McCann or somebody else from the business community. It was the art community talking about having an art tour in Barrie that includes this item.”

McCann asked staff to repeat why Heritage Park was selected as the choice for the ‘Love Barrie’ sign.

Access Barrie executive director Rebecca James-Reid told city council the main reason Heritage Park was selected was based on consultation with the public art committee and the MacLaren.

“But also because of the initial motion that was brought forward from council, and we were trying to check the boxes of that motion. One of those key features was to have the water in the background,” she explained.

James-Reid said in consultations with the public art committee and the MacLaren, there was concern about placing the sign at City Hall with its densely packed space.

“We landed on Heritage Park also because of the close proximity to the downtown, and in the original motion, as you recall, indicated Meridian Square, and we didn’t recommend there because it was very busy with other important features for the city.”

The mayor was underwhelmed with the sign.

“I don’t think we should be doing what everybody else has already done,” Lehman said. “That’s not innovative. It’s not innovative to say everybody else has got one and I want one too.”

“I love Barrie and I don’t want us to be the same as everybody else. I want us to be better. I want us to do something different.”

Councillor Claire Riepma stuck to his guns in his opposition to the sign.

“I think the evidence is pretty clear. People don’t come to Barrie to get their picture taken with a sign,” he said. “This is not something we want on our waterfront and not something our citizens want on our waterfront.”

McCann told Barrie 360 at the weekend he would like to have a fundraising launch on Canada Day.