As early as this week, the 42-inch “electronic paper” screens will start displaying bus routes, public announcements and advertising for Upper Valley businesses and nonprofits.
The signs are from Cambridge, Mass., startup Soofa, which has partnered with municipalities and companies in the Boston area, Georgia and Florida to install the solar-powered signage. Manchester also has two signs on Elm Street.
City officials also plan to highlight Lebanon’s arts and recreation programs, drawing people to the Mascoma River Greenway, art walks and outdoor events.
Lebanon can use the signs to make public announcements, such as alerting people to public meetings and forums or informing passersby of COVID-19 guidelines, according to Holly McKenna, Soofa’s vice president of sales.
Five sleek signs now greet people at each end of the Lebanon Mall, the entrance to the newly reopened downtown rail tunnel, City Hall and the Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon.
“Hi, I’m the Soofa sign,” the black and white displays — similar to those on e-readers — said Tuesday morning. “I’m new here.”
“It can really foster cultural engagement,” McKenna said of the signs, adding “there are a lot of new things up and coming in Lebanon.”
The five signs cost the city $60,000 — $12,000 each — and it receives 20% of ad revenue, according to an agreement signed by City Manager Shaun Mulholland.
When fully operational, the signs will be divided into sections, one for city use, another for nonprofits and advertising for businesses. Mulholland, who is away this week, told the Lebanon Economic Development Commission in June that an ad cost $99 for 10,000 views, which are calculated by software that counts signals from passing smartphones.
Although the signs are now colored a standard black, they’ll soon be wrapped in vinyl artwork, said Paul Coats, director of the Lebanon Recreation, Arts and Parks Department. The Kilton Public Library’s sign will feature a “books and people” design, while the four others will sport a graphic that symbolizes the region’s rivers.
Each also will have a map — two with businesses along the Lebanon Mall, one with an outline of the Mascoma River Greenway and Northern Rail Trail, and another with directions through a downtown art walk. “The signs are meant to be more about information than anything else, certainly to be attractive,” Coats said.
The structures, she predicted, will help draw people to more shows, gallery events and other cultural hubs in the city’s neighborhoods. “It’s really exciting, I think. The signs are just going to be cool,” she said. “They have a really cool design to them that kind of lends an artistic vibe.”
Tracy Hutchins, executive director of the Upper Valley Business Alliance, also characterized the signs as indicative of downtown and West Lebanon’s ongoing revitalization. However, he added, they’re also indicative of the city’s efforts to promote outdoor art, which include the art walk, new banners for light poles and sidewalk poems.