The signs in Times Square are usually referred to as “spectaculars” and for good reason—they push the limits of sign design and technology. The latest digital sign and accompanying backlit fascia on the Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square is no exception, as the LED display is the largest in the world.
To complete this larger-than-life sign, it took a sign business accustomed to working at the crossroads of the world, North Shore Neon Sign Company.
Ever since opening its doors in 1954, North Shore Neon has fabricated and erected signs all over the metro New York area, including the majority of the latest signage in Times Square.
For this particular project, the sign company fabricated a secondary steel structure for the building before any other work began. They built this steel structure in-shop before bringing it onsite.
“The building’s original footprint had some architectural details where there were some radiused areas and some ins and some outs,” says Patrick Dooley, vice president of Business Development at North Shore Neon. “We flushed off and squared off the front of the building so that it ran parallel to both the side streets and to Broadway.”
Constructing and installing the steel themselves allowed for a smoother installation of the 10mm Mitsubishi Electric digital display.
“We could control the attachment points and maintain plumb and level,” explains Dooley. “We laser-surveyed continually as it was going up, so we could adjust as we went along making the installation of the cabinets that much easier and eliminating adjustments needing to be done while the cranes were swinging cabinets into place.”
And getting things lined up perfectly was paramount since the display could have no seams.
“It’s OK to be an inch off with structural steel, but with an LED display, where you only have 10mm between each module, you can’t have that,” says Dooley.
Lining things up wasn’t even the biggest challenge on the install—it was the site logistics behind the deliveries of the pieces on tractor-trailers.
“This work took place in one of the most congested areas in the world,” says Dooley. “Every day, we were rolling deliveries in of equipment that had to be installed in very specific order and orchestrated down to the minute.”
The three brothers who own North Shore Neon take a very hands-on approach and were essential in ensuring the work stuck to the timeline.
Larry Brown, from the Long Island facility, monitored manufacturing of the support steel, as well as the receiving and shipping of all components and the Mitsubishi Electric display cabinets. Dave Brown from the New York City facility handled the dispatch of the appropriate labor and associated equipment, as well as facilitated day-to-day operations on all other projects going on simultaneously. Tom Brown supervised the installation directly from the site and operated cranes as required for most of the install.
The fact that North Shore Neon owns its tractor-trailers was also instrumental in organizing deliveries as the shop didn’t have to depend on anyone else. The pieces were delivered and unloaded at night (so as to have the least disruption on Times Square traffic), and then most of the install work was done during the day.
To complete the install, North Shore Neon pulled from their fleet of over sixty pieces of equipment, including cranes, Elliott Equipment trucks, scissor lifts, and snorkel lifts as required.
North Shore Neon even added to the fleet the latest 185-foot JLG 1850SJ Telescopic Boom Lift especially for this job. The new JLG allowed them to eliminate roof rigs and save time on the install.
With this arsenal of service equipment, the pieces of the digital screen were tied back to structural steel stubs, which were attached to the building’s structural steel skeleton.
When the install was complete, the digital sign stood almost nine stories tall at 78 feet-by-330 feet wide.
To power it, North Shore Neon’s electricians brought all the power up directly from the utilities and supplied current to eight distribution panels, which were then branched out to each cabinet. The electric was run from the basement up over ninety feet to the fascia in sixteen four-inch diameter galvanized pipes.
In fact, the digital screen drew so much power that there was only a limited supply left to backlight the 4,000-square-foot fascia at the top. To find a lighting solution that would fit into the power parameters, North Shore Neon enlisted the help of Yorston and Associates, an agency of independent reps that has exclusively served the sign industry for over thirty years.
“On a project like this, if you don’t have a professional like [Yorston], you’ll spend way too much of your time and energy researching something that Yorston already has the resources at his disposal for,” says Dooley.
Yorston and Associates has worked with North Shore Neon for almost twenty-five years, and on this project, they suggested using Voltarc’s TriLight Max™ T8 series of fluorescent lamps.
At first, North Shore Neon was reluctant to consider this conventional lamp, since it figured only LEDs could provide the brightness needed at the specified energy levels. However Voltarc’s T8 lamps use tri-band phosphors, which yield maximum lumen output, as well as Long Life™ Cup-Cathode Technology that provides a 60,000-hour life. In addition, the lamp is able to withstand cold temperatures, which was a must in the harsh New York winters.
Yorston and Associates next recommended Keystone Technologies electronic ballasts, since they offered a five-year warranty and wouldn’t cause premature burnouts and costly repairs. Keystone and Voltarc even performed accelerated cold temperature testing on the lamps and ballasts to ensure they could operate in harsh conditions.
North Shore Neon opted to go with this lamp/ballast combination.
“Cost per watt actually would prove out that the TriLight lamp and the Keystone ballast were more energy-efficient than what they could have ever achieved with the LEDs,” says Bill Yorston, founder of Yorston and Associates.
As the final lighting piece, Yorston and Associates recommended the SignComp ballast and socket raceway, which allowed for five lamps to be wired in each cabinet of the fascia.
SignComp was also used for the fascia’s fabric tensioning system, since it met (and even exceeded) the wind load requirements on this project.
Yorston and Associates brought on ABC Sign Systems, a wholesale fabricator, to create the fascia.
“What North Shore needed was something that was going to have a matte, black finish, that would give them the longevity,” says Yorston, “and that would be able to be tensioned and withstand the winds without any concern.”
ABC Sign Systems chose Arlon’s Colorkote™ TC, a flexible, reinforced, white vinyl substrate coated with premium black ink and covered with FX outer protective coating.
To create the white letters spelling “Marriott Marquis,” ABC Sign Systems created a stencil and used Arlon’s Eradicator solution to wipe away the black color from within the stencil, revealing the white substrate underneath. For the red “M” and rectangular border, the shop cut and applied red Arlon Series 2500 vinyl.
ABC Sign Systems created three pieces for the fascia measuring 84 inches high-by-90 feet long, 84 inches high-by-70 feet long, and 84 inches high-by-73 feet long. They also fabricated eight other flex face signs for the side streets. In total, fabrication on the eleven signs took two hundred hours.
To install the fascia, North Shore Neon placed and tied the cabinets to the structural steel stubs. (Note: These cabinets were fabricated in North Shore Neon’s shop and then shipped to the job site.) North Shore Neon then rolled out the material and fit it into the tensioning system.
In total, North Shore Neon worked on this sign project for nearly a year—from January 2014 to right before Thanksgiving when the sign was powered up.
The shop continued behind-the-scenes work into the new year as it finished up safety cables, catwalks, catwalk lighting, toe kicks, and more to meet OSHA standards.
North Shore Neon is happy with how this sign turned out. “It’s something we can hang our hat on,” says Dooley, “and we’re very proud of it.”
By Ashley Bray
Photos (top to bottom): Marriott, Yorston & Associates, North Shore Neon, North Shore Neon.