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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Sweetwater Sound says its new billboard will promote the city and area events for motorists traveling U.S. 30.

Sweetwater billboard to welcome city visitors

Sweetwater Sound Inc. hopes it’s a sign of good things to come.

The music equipment and instruments company unveiled a $750,000 high-definition sign on its campus at 5501 U.S. 30 W. on Tuesday. The business says the sign will serve as a community messaging center for residents and visitors traveling U.S. 30.

The idea behind the electronic billboard is to hype local events and tourist attractions, such as the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, TinCaps baseball team, Voices of Unity Youth Choir performances and Three Rivers Festival.

And, of course, the sign will plug Sweetwater’s business.

The billboard is the brainchild of Michael Ross, senior vice president of marketing at Sweetwater.

Ross said that during a family trip to Indianapolis, his kids began to ooh and ahh about the 50-foot-tall Nestlé bunny that sits off Interstate 69 near Anderson.

“I starting thinking, what if we had something that advertised all the things Fort Wayne has going on?” Ross said. “The thing was to go about it in a tasteful way.”

For three years, Sweetwater staff studied various sizes, types of signs, configurations and manufacturers. The process even involved some computer-generated analysis.

“We had a rendering of the sign on the screen, so we would know what it looked like when motorists drove by,” Ross said.

The finished product is a two-sided sign that uses 1.4 million LED bulbs, standing a couple of stories tall atop a sandstone foundation supported by steel.

City and county officials attended the sign’s unveiling Tuesday. No government dollars funded the billboard.

Sweetwater Sound founder Chuck Surack will not charge for advertising on the sign.

“That’s not what this is about,” Ross said. “It’s about drawing attention to Fort Wayne.”

Surack said he wanted the sign to be the first and last thing motorists traveling along U.S. 30 see.

“When they come into town, they’ll see ‘Welcome to Fort Wayne,’ and when they leave, they’ll see ‘Thanks for Visiting Fort Wayne,’ ” he said.