Big Wells Fargo signs surprise city

Two large signs are attracting unwanted attention at Wells Fargo

By Paige Gance

The big new Wells Fargo signs in the center of little Lexington have left residents repelled, city officials embarrassed, and the California-based bank with the job of changing the signs – again.

The two signs, in signature red and yellow, stretch over 48 square feet each, well over the maximum 30 square feet allowed by the city’s zoning ordinance.

When Lexington planning and development director Bill Blatter first saw the signs, he said he immediately thought, “Oh damn, is that actually the sign we approved?”

The city’s architectural review board discussed the application but also neglected to question the signs’ size.

Blatter acknowledges his failure to see that the signs were too large when he signed off on the application.  He has been working since then to remedy the oversight.

He sent a letter on Aug. 26 to Sign Productions, the Iowa-based company responsible for rolling out the Wells Fargo signs that are replacing Wachovia logos all over the country.

“I have never received so many calls or had so many personal conversations about actions taking place in our community as I have had about these signs,” wrote Blatter in his letter.

It could have been worse.  Sign Productions had originally planned a lit, banner-like sign to line the top of the building walls, said Fred Kirchner, chairman of the Lexington architectural review board.

“But we’re not a big city,” said Kirchner.

When representatives of Sign Productions arrived in town, they realized their vision for the sign wouldn’t work in historic downtown Lexington, he said.

Instead they submitted an application for a two-by-six foot sign made from 1/8” sheet metal. But local employees at the bank thought these signs looked too cheap, said Kirchner, so Sign Productions submitted another application for the current signs measuring 5-foot, 10-inches by 8-foot, 3-inches.

Before Wells Fargo and Wachovia, there was First Union, and before that, Dominion.  Every other name change at this bank building has been simpler than this, said Kirchner.

With complaints from residents mounting, Blatter recognized his error and sent his letter. From there, he maneuvered through the Wells Fargo bureaucracy for weeks to find the right person to resolve the issue.

“The signs aren’t representative of downtown Lexington,” said Becky Edmondson, administrative assistant at the planning department.

Residents have created a Facebook page titled “Campaign Against Wells Fargo Signage.”  As of Thursday morning, Sept. 29, the page had 14 “likes.”

Sheila Lineberry, bank manager at Wells Fargo, said she has heard good and bad comments about the signs, but that the negative tends to drown out the positive.

“We conformed to all the requirements and the approval process,” said Lineberry.

Another bank employee, Nancy McCormick, said she loved the logo because the red and gold lettering remind her of VMI colors.

City officials have a different view.

“It’s overpowering when you walk past it–so much color, it’s magnetic,” said Kirchner. “It should’ve raised a bigger flag.”

“We lost some degree of trust with the people,” said Kirchner.  But Blatter is making good on his mistake and said he is encouraging Wells Fargo to work with the city and be good corporate citizens.

If that does not work, Blatter said, “I am prepared to say the signs are illegal.”