Gulf Tower light keeps Pirates in the know

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Last May, the energy-efficient LED lights high atop the Gulf Tower revolved like a rotating red hockey strobe every time the Pittsburgh Penguins scored.

The Penguins lost in the playoffs, but fans watching games on a giant video board in the parking lot of Consol Energy Center thought the effect was pretty cool.

Fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates can enjoy a similar display, visible from PNC Park and across the city during games as the team makes a potential playoff run.

PG graphic: Up in Lights
(Click image for larger version)

Since mid-August, black-and-gold light sequences flash for 60 seconds 44 stories above the street every time the Pirates score. The top six stories display a spinning gold pattern for home runs and sparkling, dancing lights for runs.

And after a win, the tower flashes alternating black-and-gold sequences that run for the rest of the evening until dawn.

It's all controlled from a laptop computer carried by Paul Denillo, the Pirates' production coordinator of in-game entertainment, using programs set up by the Gulf Tower owners.

"They have all these different light shows that I can press on with the click of a mouse," he said. "I'm surprised by how much attention it's getting."

Larry Walsh, senior vice president of New York-based Rugby Realty, owners of the tower, had been coordinating the displays himself for much of the summer using his cell phone.

But he couldn't pay attention to every game or every run, so in mid-August he turned the duties over to the team and Mr. Denillo.

"I set up a virtual private network for him to log into my network. He goes to a website and uses a number of buttons to select sequences," he said. "It's gotten incredible response. I think the impetus was the fact that from PNC you look straight out at this building and it stands out there alone in the distance. It's a natural fit for 38,000 people to look out and see it as a symbol."

Honoring the Pirates with lights isn't new.

About a decade ago a night security guard in the lobby would listen to Pirate games on the radio and press a button if a player hit a home run, triggering a strobe light on top of the building.

"I remember that strobe light was the coolest thing," Mr. Denillo said. "But this is so much bigger."

Last year the tower owners hired a local firm, C&C Lighting, to design the new LED system on top of the building. C&C also designed the color-coordinated weather beacon in addition to the sequences for holidays and sports events.

The lights have attracted attention beyond Pittsburgh.

The owners of the Empire State Building installed a similar LED system for massive displays high above the Big Apple.

The Pirates hope the tower's lights keep getting a workout, home and away, whether the team enjoys its first winning season in two decades.

This weekend Mr. Denillo will be controlling the display from St. Louis, where the team is playing the Cardinals.

"Everybody seems to think it's a neat addition to what we're doing at the ballpark," said Matt Zidik, manager of game presentation. "It's a symbol of what's happening [on the field.]"

If all goes well into the fall, the Pirates and Rugby Realty might try out some new patterns, including a giant P that was first displayed last weekend after a win.

"We can continue to update and change and do lots of new things," Mr. Walsh said.

For now, Mr. Denillo said, the Pirates displays after victories will alternate through the night with the weather beacon that has become a fixture on the night skyline.

"If people see the weather beacon," he said, "don't assume the Pirates lost."


Correction/Clarification: (Published Sept. 7, 2013) C&C Lighting designed the lighting system and displays on the Gulf Tower. An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the company installed the lights. neigh_city - pirates

Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510.


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