SPOKANE, WA – Downtown America has experienced a resurgence in recent years, and a good share of the credit has to go to city leaders who’ve had the foresight to rescue neglected structures and give them new life as part of a revitalized urban landscape. This process is boldly and clearly on display in Spokane, where two soaring towers from a formerly idle steam plant now dominate the city skyline, illuminated in rich vibrant colored LED light by 48 COLORado 4 IP linear wash lights from CHAUVET Professional installed by AMP’D Entertainment.
Built in 1907, the two 225’ steam towers provided heat to downtown Spokane buildings for almost eight decades, until the rising cost of electricity rendered them obsolete in 1986. Like many outdated structures in urban America, the towers stood unused and neglected. Then ten years after they closed, their owner Avista joined with Wells and Company to bring them back to life as the heart of a mixed use complex called Steam Plant Square.
Over 80,000 square feet of office, retail and dining space sprang up around the former steam plant towers. The inside of the towers themselves was turned into a craft brewery and an upscale restaurant that serves up delicacies like Osso Bucco and Petrale Sole in dining areas that incorporate vestiges of the structures’ utilitarian past. Visitors can also tour the towers to learn more about the important role they played in Spokane’s history.
The Steam Plant Towers’ renaissance didn’t reach fruition, though, until Wednesday October 1, 2014, when a controller was activated, turning the two towers pink from the light of the COLORado fixtures to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness month. This began the era that locals call “Light Up The Stacks.” Today, the towers are routinely illuminated, adding extra color to the Spokane skyline, celebrating holidays and local sports team triumphs, as well as raising awareness of worthy causes.
For Justin Haas, founder and general manager of AMP’D Entertainment, the Steam Plant project has been a source of satisfaction, learning and pride. When asked by officials if he could light the towers, Haas led his team in exploring different options before they finally landed on using the COLORado fixtures.
“We promised we would look at what it would take to light the towers,” he recalled. “A week later, we decided to purchase 24 of the Colorado 4 IP and add it to our rental inventory. We never looked back and haven’t regretted that decision at all. Once we received the COLORados, we got them into our inventory system and had the towers’ maintenance department build us a platform around the front side of the stacks to hold and house the lights. The roof is slanted right in the middle of the front of each stack, so we had to build the platform high enough so we could keep the fixtures at even height the whole way around. They built the platform the night before our first install. All we had to do was to clamp and safety cable the lights to the platform, and we set the lights to master-slave and set the color to pink for breast cancer awareness.”
Ultimately a steel company was subcontracted to engineer a structure that uses struts to hold the lights as well as the data and power lines. The COLORado fixtures are positioned 24 on each tower approximately 8’ from the stacks. “A feature of the COLORados that we really appreciated was the power and data linking,” said Haas. “That saved us time and labor with the install.”
Naturally, the RGBW color mixing capabilities of the COLORado fixtures were the most appreciated feature, according to Haas. “Prior to us installing the COLORados, the towers were lit by eight 1500-watt metal halide lights,” he said. “When you looked at what the COLORados do in terms of creating beautiful color washes, there was no way the metal halide lights could stay. Color mixing and the white LED were big selling points. The 15° beam angle also played a key role, since it gave everyone confidence that we could light the tops of these very tall stacks.”
Budget was also a factor in the decision-making process for the owners of the Steam Plant Towers. “We were up against a big name well-known color fixture,” said Haas, “but we carried the day because their price was astronomically higher than ours. And of course, power and energy saving were also important to the client. Pulling only 216w/1.04a at full power really helps sell these units.”
Haas and his team of Steven Bolt and Bradley Duffy did more than install the lights, they also provided training for the towers’ staff. AMP’D Entertainment built the initial programs and taught the towers’ staff how to run the lights and add new scenes.
“The controller is downstairs in the manager’s office and he can run the programs using his smart phone and his computer, virtually never having to touch the controller,” said Haas. “The lights are run off a calendar system that turns on the fixtures at a given point in the day and turns them off in the early morning. So the lighted stacks have become an icon of sorts in this community. People really love them.”
Indicative of this affection is an article that appeared in the local newspaper, the Spokane Review, in December 2014, just months after the COLORado fixtures were installed, which declared, “Downtown Spokane is more colorful this Christmas, with the tall smokestacks at Steam Plant Square glowing green and red.”
For his part, Haas has also seen an impact on his business at AMP’D Entertainment. “The towers are on the news it seems every night,” he said. “People are always talking about them and it’s sparked a wave of building owners reaching out to us to ask about doing their buildings too. We have three exterior building projects in the cue and just finished one in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. This is obviously an idea whose time has come!”
Photo Credit: James Richman