Designer claims idea for TORONTO sign was used for Pan Am Games without permission

WATCH ABOVE: The original concept for a large-scale 3D TORONTO sign was born years ago, says Bruce Barrow. He says the idea only became reality after he met with city officials. Mark McAllister reports.

TORONTO — Is the giant Toronto Pan Am sign located at Nathan Phillips Square a giant rip off? According to one local designer the answer is yes.

Bruce Barrow says he developed the design for the iconic Pan Am Games “TORONTO” sign years ago, but that his idea was used by city officials without permission.

Global News has obtained a copy of a proposal crafted by Barrow that was allegedly submitted to city officials.

A brand marketing and entertainment creative consultant by trade, Barrow says he came up with the idea in 2008 and shared it with a number of industry leaders over the years.

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Barrow says he approached Toronto City officials in 2013 with the idea and met with them again in 2014 to present his concept dubbed “CityBrand,” which allegedly featured the large-scale 3D Toronto sign.

He says he first brought the idea to Barry Avrich, who later was paid to make ads for John Tory.

“I always thought John Tory would be someone who would be an advocate, and sent him a copy of this CityBrand proposal last summer,” Barrow says, adding that he subsequently had a meeting with Councillor Josh Colle who suggested it generated “a lot of interest.”

BELOW: Check out Barrow’s original design – then slide to compare to the eventual Pan Am Games sign in Nathan Phillips Square

Barrow says he met in person with Colle in March 2014.

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“So we had a meeting and I went through the detail about the CityBrand concept and then it was just sort of like, ‘Well we’ll get back to you,’ which I assumed was the standard type of timelines to get anything done,” he says, adding that he received a message from someone familiar with his design in January congratulating him that his idea had been accepted for a proposal.

“And I went, ‘No, it’s not my idea. No, I don’t know anything about it’ … I felt somewhat like, ‘I don’t understand what’s going on here? Why wouldn’t they have contacted me?'” he says.

Barrow says he then attempted to reach out to Thompson and Tory for an explanation and says he received an email from Tory in February that read: “I am utterly unaware of any such process happening and don’t believe it is true. I will check. I don’t think there is any need to believe this is happening,” Barrow said.

Barrow says he took Tory at his word and felt there was no need for concern, but he says he was shocked when the sign was unveiled earlier this month.

He says he emailed Thompson just days before the proposal for the sign was put forth and the “silence was kind of deafening.”

An image from the proposed sign that Barrow says he sent to city officials. Bruce Barrow

To date, Barrow says no one from the city has responded to his multiple requests for comment and added that he has an extensive paper trail to prove his allegations.

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He also says he had sent copies of his concept to various city staff, including Colle and Thompson, with a disclaimer that said the ideas are his intellectual property and should not be used without his permission.

When reached for comment, Tory told Global News he had seen correspondence between people talking about different ideas to promote the city during the Pan Am Games but could not comment directly on the allegations.

“I’m not really in a position to comment as to sort of whose idea was exactly whose,” he says.

“If there is a dispute about the sort of, where that idea came from, I guess people will have to sort that out between and among themselves.”

Thompson told Global News Thursday that Barrow’s concept “had nothing to do with the Pan Am Games.”

“Well it’s interesting because we told him, we told him that we were working on an [request for proposal] for this very thing,” he says.
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“This was not an original idea. This was letterings that he had shown us, images of the HOLLYWOOD sign.”

An image from the proposed sign that Barrow says he sent to city officials. Bruce Barrow

Barrow says at this point he’s not necessarily looking for compensation, just an acknowledgement from the city of wrongdoing.

“I’d like the mayor to make it right. Just to say, at least acknowledge, that this has happened. ‘Yes it’s true, Mr. Barrow did bring this idea to us.’ That would be a nice first step,” he says, adding that he didn’t immediately make the issue a legal one.

“I didn’t go that route … I thought maybe I’d just like to get the story told because I think, in fairness, it’s true.”

With files from Mark McAllister

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