Downtown Waukesha's logo could see a makeover

Chris Kuhagen
The red banners that depict Waukesha’s historic downtown and riverwalk have been on street poles for years. The look of these banners, however, could change with the city hiring a marketing firm to seek ideas on how to “freshen up” downtown.
Published on: 12/10/2013

It's no secret that how a company markets itself can play a major factor in whether it succeeds or fails.

Refreshing up one's image or reshaping its identity can help an organization become a thriving entity — a profitable one that others want to be a part of.

That's what downtown Waukesha is looking for. And this effort is being spearheaded by a rebranding charge.

Red banners can be seen hanging from the streetlights with a springhouse logo that says "Historic Downtown." Oftentimes, many downtown stakeholders have praised the charm downtown offers along the river walk.

But recently oversized guitars have landed on various street corners in downtown and murals depicting Les Paul, the famous musician who was born and is buried here, were painted on buildings as part of the GuitarTown project.

There's a separate logo and banners for that project and the Friday Night Live concerts over the last decade during the summers have helped liven up the area. Moreover, the Farmer's Market in the spring through fall and holiday events have grown in recent years.

Marketing firm to get input

So does downtown have a clear identity?

And is the downtown stuck in its historic past or can it incorporate this element along with a cultural, music and arts scene into an image to show others what Waukesha offers?

Those are the questions that will be considered over the next couple of months.

If approved by the Common Council at its meeting on Tuesday for $15,000, representatives from the Milwaukee-based marketing firm, Savage Solutions, will tour downtown to get an idea of what downtown Waukesha represents.

"They'll walk downtown and talk to people in the streets, business owners, property owners, elected officials, a variety of people that use downtown to get the best representation on what downtown means to them," Community Development Specialist Jeff Fortin said.

Part of master plan

Mayor Jeff Scrima said the rebranding effort is an extension from the Community Development's new Central City Master Plan. A committee was then formed, Fortin said, and he said the No. 1-goal was for more durable banners.

From there, though, the goal shifted.

"We said instead of just putting up new banners with the springhouse logo it was a time to take a step back," Fortin said. "Since they'll be up for the foreseeable future we looked at it as providing a refresher."

Over the next decade, the street lighting, roadways and aesthetics of the area will get an overhaul as part of a new streetscape program, so Fortin said it was the right time to bring in an outside firm to brainstorm a new downtown look.

"As streets are getting reconstructed and with the plan for a new design next year it's important we get the banners right," said Fortin, noting that Clinton Street will undergo a major reconstruction project in 2014.

Fortin said the company is aware of some of downtown Waukesha's historic and recent past but will start from the "ground up."

"They're not going in with a historic slate being the focus," said Fortin, while reinforcing the logo is about a lot more than just banners.

Out with the old?

Scrima said it might be time for a shift in downtown.

He said two features in downtown's logo are outdated: the springhouse feature and calling itself "historic."

"It's worth noting that the old springhouse was based upon the springs era of the 1800s in which some marketing people claimed that the city water could heal people and attract people to Waukesha," Scrima said. "We know that water did not heal people and now we have significant water challenges. The springhouse may not be the best symbol for the future."

Scrima added: "Likewise, there was a strong trend about 12 to 15 years ago where every town and city began calling themselves historic. However, since many claim to be historic and that's a general claim, it doesn't make us unique from all the others. It was a big fad. That concept may have seen its better days."

The mayor's suggestion?

Incorporate GuitarTown and Les Paul into its identity.

"We certainly do have some uniquely historic elements that we can be proud of when we look at the symbol of an electric guitar," said Scrima, who helped first bring the Gibson Waukesha GuitarTown project — one that celebrates Les Paul, includes local artists painting large and playable guitars and donates money to local charities — to the city almost two years ago.

"That symbol is based upon reality because Les Paul was born here and grew up here. He is a known inventor of the solid body electric guitar. That's specific to Waukesha and downtown and separates itself from the country and world. Gibson Guitar Corporation obviously recognized that because they included us in its national art project."

Fresh and new

Norm Bruce, president of the Waukesha Downtown Business Association and a longtime downtown business owner, had the same thoughts as Scrima.

"I look at it as coming up with a new perspective," Bruce said of rebranding. "It makes sense because things have changed in downtown. A lot of downtowns call themselves historic. But only seven other cities can call themselves a GuitarTown."

Bruce said he will suggest incorporating arts and music into the theme.

"This is really a creative cultural center, kind of like the saying 'Live Love Waukesha,'" said Bruce, referencing the phrase that was started this summer during GuitarTown II. "It's got some vibrancy and a message of moving forward. Not that we won't honor the springs of the past but we have to ask ourselves how do you project an image where you're excited about living in downtown, being here and to continue the rhythm.

"I look at the study as a way to refresh downtown. You see every company, they come up with new logos and images. You see it with the Brewers and Bucks and all sports teams. It's to say 'hey we're fresh and new. Be a part of us.'"

But as Scrima reiterated, downtown's new logo won't be made by just a couple individuals.

"Ultimately," Scrima said, "this will be decided by the people."