Heritage Commission Tells Church ‘No’ On Sign

By MARK EVANS

mevans@stegenherald.com

Citing the Design Guidelines for the Ste. Genevieve National Register Historic District, the Ste. Genevieve Heritage Commission denied a request by the Church of Ste. Genevieve on Jan. 25, to erect an illuminated, digital LED, freestanding monument sign at Fourth and Market streets on the church property.

Father Edward Nemeth, church pastor, spoke to the commission about the request.

Nemeth said that since he has been pastor, the church has been very  concerned about the historical preservation of the church property and that he, himself  was “one of the most traditional you would find.”

He said that while it might seem “incongruous” for him to then be requesting an LED sign,  he likes the motto “tradition and evolution.”

“You take the best things of our tradition, and how do you evolve them into the future?” he asked. This, he feels, fits the church’s situation.

“Our community, our city –especially in thew historic district – is not a time capsule,” he said. “We see a variance of different decades and centuries of  architecture and structures. We just had a gas station that was just painted across the road, we have a new US Bank. So, it is not outside the realm to put some kind of sign.”

He noted that the church has been the foundation of the town since its colonial beginnings.

“We want to celebrate the tradition of this town,” he said, “but we need to borrow from the for-profit world, best practices of what is going to allow people to join in us in celebrating out tradition.” He added that with the establishment of the Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park, the community is “in a unique moment in our city’s history” and must capitalize on this.

He called Fourth and Market “the busiest intersection in town” and the best place to “capture the hearts and minds” of younger generations and other visitors with something attention-grabbing.

“We think that, on this corner, that we can do a lot for our community, for our town,” Nemeth said.

He said that, while the church would benefit from the sign, it would also be used to help boost other things in town, such as local festivals.

“We think we are primed in a location to do the most good for somebody coming to visit us,” he said.

Nemeth assured the commission the sign would “be tastefully done” and would fit in with the church and rectory architecture.

Commission member Lee Ann Waldvogel asked whether the church was “tied to that spot” for a sign. Nemeth replied that “Everything is up for negotiation.”

Waldvogel brought up the

possibility of having the sign on the northern edge of the property, facing northeast, “so it isn’t the first thing people see” when they enter town on fourth Street.

Nemeth said  the issue with that was that by the time it was viewed, the drivers might have missed most of what was  being promoted in town.

“It certainly isn’t the preferable real estate for us,” he said. “We want to capture and maximize views as people come into town.”

Frank Myers, long the voice of caution on the commission, noted that a visitor cannot enter town without seeing the church steeple first.

“The church and its buildings are very impressive,” he said. “I understand why the congregation of that church is anxious for people to see it. It’s a beautiful structure.”

He said his only concern is that the sign would set a precedent.

“I would hate to be able drive into Ste. Genevieve at night and be able to see nothing but highlighted beer signs and whatever else comes along,” Myers said.

He added that “what comes next” is his biggest concern.

Nemeth said he saw Myers’ point, but disagreed about it necessarily setting a city-wide precedent.

“I think it’s up to this committee to look at each case individually,” he said. In this case, it would serve both the church itself and the community as a whole, he said.

“I’ll be honest,” Nemeth added, “I think we, as a community need to do a better job of that. Across the street from here, there is a sign to celebrate community events that is a month outdated. It still has December dates on it. I think it’s a service we can provide, while still serving our own constituency.”

Chair Casey Brenner asked how big the sign would be. She was told it would be about four by eight feet.

Benner said she was concerned about  it blocking visibility for traffic.

Other church spokesmen assured her that would not be the case and noted that the corner in question was chosen because it does not face any homes.

Waldvogel noted that the Design Guidelines state that lighted signs “should be simple in character and low in intensity.”

“I understand your reasoning,” she said. “But I still think it would be a detriment to the historical image of both the church and the church environment and the rest of the town.”

Myers later reiterated his concern that approving the sign would set a precedent.

“In my experience in traveling, you get quite an impression by the lighted atmosphere of the town. If it’s nothing but bad signs, advertising signs, the impression is not good.”

He conceded that the church dates back to the beginning of the town, but said that “A wealth of effort” has gone into improving the town over the years.

Myers said that historic buildings and Memorial Cemetery have been restored and that sidewalks, streets and streetlights have been done in a tasteful, historically accurate manner.

“All of these things were done based on the historic significance of this town. And we don’t dare mar that,” he said. “I’m not talking about marring the appearance of the church. As I said, the church is a thing of beauty. From just down the highway, you look up and there’s the church. From down on the river and look back, there is the church. It won’t be forgotten. It very easily can be called the center of the community. But, I don’t want to see the community effort hurt by a policy that allows any kind of a size.”

He said looking at modifying the guidelines pertaining to signs might be an option and that he didn’t feel comfortable making decisions when the guidelines are so vague.

Nemeth countered that this leaves the decisions up to the commission and that it could impact the town’s future growth.

“We are a town that is in position to be able to launch forward in the future, bringing over 100,000 people into our town with this new national park status,” he said. “And, being able to maximize our events and to grow tourism to the town, which in turn will have a positive impact on our commerce and our economy.”

He said that it falls to the commission to make such decision.

“With all due respect, Father,” Waldvogel replied, “our purpose here is to interpret applications as how they fit into our guidelines, that were sent to us by the city.  So far as I can tell, by our guidelines, it does not.”