Dozens of signs emblazoned with a big blue horse named Big Lex are expected to help visitors find their way around Lexington in coming months.
The Urban County Council is expected to take an initial vote Tuesday on a $400,000 contract for the signs and give final approval one week later.
Architectural Graphics Inc. of Norfolk, Va., will make and install 100 of the green and white reflective signs.
The company will have 90 days to fabricate the signs, but the city hopes to have most of them installed before the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games begin Sept. 25, said Kevin Wente, the city's manager for the program.
If it doesn't look as if all 100 will be in place within 90 days, Wente has a plan to phase in the signs, first placing them on all the major corridors that feed from the interstate, on Versailles Road and downtown.
Large signs — 6 feet wide and 9 feet tall — will be erected on major corridors such as Newtown Pike and at interstate exits to direct travelers to 11 major destinations that draw at least 75,000 visitors a year, such as the American Saddlebred Museum, Rupp Arena and the University of Kentucky.
Smaller signs — 3 feet wide and 5 feet tall — will be posted throughout downtown and other locations to direct people to 35 smaller attractions, such as the Downtown Arts Center, the Headley-Whitney Museum and Woodland Park.
The council previously voted to borrow $1 million for the program, but bids came in lower than expected, due mainly to the sharp decline in the cost of aluminum, Wente said.
The remaining $600,000 will be used for maintenance and replacement of signs if any should be sprayed with graffiti or knocked over by a vehicle, and for signs in additional locations in the future.
In time, the city would like to have signs that direct people to downtown parking garages and to the start of biking and hiking trails.
Work to establish the sign program began in 2002, well before Lexington was tapped as the site of the Games, Wente said.
In general, the signs will help residents and visitors find things, said Renee Jackson, president of the Downtown Lexington Corp.
"I absolutely think signage is needed," she said. "It's useful to both cars and pedestrians. It's a friendly tool to have in the downtown."
The international graphic design firm Pentagram, hired by the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau last year, came up with the blue horse as an iconic logo for Lexington. A few weeks later, the council voted to make the blue horse Lexington's "visual logo."
The blue horse is no run-of-the-mill Thoroughbred. Pentagram used the famous stallion Lexington, painted by equine portrait artist Edward Troye, as its inspiration. The painting hangs in a private collection in New York City. The owners gave their consent to use the image.
The bay stallion, foaled on a Central Kentucky farm in 1850, was a leading racehorse of his time and one of the all-time top sires. His descendants include Aristides, winner of the first Kentucky Derby.
Wente said one of the selling points of having Big Lex on the signs is that "you see the silhouette, and you know instinctively that it means Lexington."
Although opinions about Big Lex will vary, he predicted that residents will accept the horse as "part of the landscape."
"That logo sets us apart," Wente said. "You're not going to see a big blue horse anyplace else around the nation."