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Iconic Toronto sign starting to show wear, needs funding to survive

The "Toronto" sign at Nathan Phillips Square on July 10, 2015. TWITTER/YYZ_2010

When the brightly-coloured, 3D Toronto sign was unveiled in Nathan Phillips Square just prior to the Pan Am Games last summer, it wasn’t intended to become a permanent icon for the city.

There was no ongoing maintenance plan, no event guidelines, no long-term planning around it. With an estimated three- to five-year lifespan, the sign was expected to be taken down or moved somewhere when the Games ended, where it would slowly dim and disappear into a memory.

Instead, it has become a Toronto institution on the scale of the CN Tower or City Hall. It’s been the backdrop for an estimated 120 million social media photos from locals and visitors from around the globe.

So as the lifespan of Toronto’s new icon slowly ticks away, city council has to decide what to do with it.

Mike Williams, general manager of economic development, wants to replace the sign with a permanent version.

“By far, my whole life in marketing, this is the most successful marketing media branding project that I’ve ever been involved with,” he told council on Monday.

(To view on mobile, click here)

The climbable sign, originally built at a cost of $100,000, is already starting to show signs of wear and tear.

“It already is working poorly on some of the lighting.” Williams said, saying without maintenance, “The lights are going to fade, the leakage … it’ll start to look lousy and it’ll start to work poorly.”

Last month, council rejected a proposal to pull $150,000 of reserve money to keep the sign alive for the rest of 2016 and to synchronize it with other lights in the square.

And a city report stated that it could cost over $400,000 to perform more fundamental repairs to the sign over the next two years. Attempts to privatize or sell the sign to a sponsor to pay for upkeep have been rejected in committee.

Part of the problem is that it’s difficult to put a dollar value on the positive publicity the sign has provided the city. Those 120 million photos do nothing to directly help fill the city’s coffers.

City staffers have been asked to re-examine the books and come back with new options for maintaining the sign going forward.

Let’s hope the lights don’t go out before then.

Sign facts

  • The font is Azo Sans Bold
  • Each letter is three meters (10 feet) tall
  • The total word is 22 meters (74 feet) long
  • The total weight of the whole sign is 9,207 kg. (20,300 lbs.)
  • Each letter is equipped with L.E.D. lights and can transition to approximately 228 million different colours, controlled via Wi-Fi
  • The colourful sides are vinyl wrap that can be removed, so the letters can be re-skinned with different vinyl designs for other occasions


Source: City of Toronto