Times Square's Signage Helps Make it New York's Happiest Place

The "Crossroads of the World" proves the contstancy of change

Times Square is the happiest spot in New York City.
Come again?
Here’s proof: The Geography of Happiness…, a study compiled by Lewis Mitchell and other academics at the Univ. of Vermont, ranked Times Square as the happiest spot among many NYC destinations.
What’s not to be happy about? Times Square offers nearly unlimited theatrical performances, phenomenal restaurants, endless shopping at an array of newly opened retail flagship stores, and, for those so inclined, ogling The Naked Cowboy.
Who’s happiest in Times Square? That’s easy; the sign manufacturers and installers, as well as the proud owners of all the new and refurbished signage going up at a record pace all around the Bow Tie – aka the intersection of Broadway and 7th Ave.– and beyond. Our industry is busier than ever in Times Square – building new signs, replacing old ones and maintaining many more. Like the Naked City itself, the sign business never sleeps.
Every open space in Times Square is covered with some form of signage. You wonder where new signage could be installed, but not a month goes by without a retailer leasing, refurbishing or demolishing a Times Square property that requires new signage.
In every case, new opportunities are continually arising to refurbish and replace existing signage or add new digital signage in that space. And, all this churning real estate is a godsend for new advertising space, and a great format for new LED displays – and multiple opportunities for an updated Times Square gallery.
Spacing out
LED signs began to emerge in the mid-1990s, with Morgan Stanley, NASDAQ and ABC. Many of these early LED signs still exist, but some now look a bit “long in the teeth.” Thus, their owners decided their LED signs needed refreshing, and commissioned updated versions of the same signs, sometimes with a newer version of the same sign, and other times with a complete makeover.
In the past year, at least four major spectaculars underwent reconstruction: Reuters and Bank of America renewed their original look, and Skechers and the Novotel Hotel emphasized signage with redefined displays. Inglot, a Polish cosmetics firm, acquired a new LED sign, as did Express (a causal clothing retailer), which installed a monumental LED display with more than 8,500 sq. ft. of signage.
Thomson Reuters’ gargantuan LED spectacular, the 22-story behemoth that covers much of the frontage of 3 Times Square, was first designed in 2000 by ESI Design (NYC), an experiential-design consultancy. Mitsubishi Electric’s Diamond Vision Systems division produced the original spectacular’s message center, which was designed like an upside-down “T”, with its bottom horizontal segment entering into the building’s lobby.
ESI conceptualized the Reuters sign as an antenna, and visually leveraged Reuters’ worldwide, news-gathering resources by displaying video and news content on its signface. Passersby enjoy seeing the news flow into the building, “get processed” and flow out back into the world as breaking-news headlines. After 12 years as a Times Square icon, Reuters decided to upgrade the sign with a high-resolution, second-generation display.
In 2012, workers began to remove the old display and replace it with a nearly identical version. Reuters, satisfied with its Mitsubishi display, chose to upgrade from the old, 20mm version to a crisp, new 10mm display, which offers enhanced readability from any distance.
Landmark Signs & Electrical Maintenance (NYC) changed out the Reuters display, which required removing and replacing all 11 of the sign’s original sections, according to Tony Calvano, Landmark’s president.
“Two lifting techniques were employed, each defined by the sign’s height,” he said. “The highest part of the sign, which reached upwards of 22 stories, was removed using a roof hoist to lift and lower the old sign segments. The hoist also raised its replacement segments to the same spots. For the lower portions of the LED display, Landmark used its 135-ft.-reach boom truck to remove and replace the remaining LED displays and create the second-generation Reuters antenna for the front of its building.”
The Reuters display’s continual scrolling news and third-party advertising constantly attract Times Square’s passersby. Because of its informational role, Reuters required that a portion of the sign always remain “on” during its changeover.
“Once we got to a section that was to be removed, it was shut off, and the rest of the sign was left on,” Calvano said. “We repeated that process with every section of the sign.”
The new Reuters LED display now appears more stunning, with better resolution and sharper color, and it returns with the same iconic presence, with breaking news streaming its messages, one headline at a time. Two of its lower signs were increased in height to provide the display’s 16 x 9 high-definition playback format.
Inglot Cosmetics
Inglot, a Polish cosmetics manufacturer that distributes and markets its products through 400 stores in 50 countries, renovated its storefront signage with a state-of-the-art, LED display at its showcase location on Two Times Square’s west side. The company acquired a Daktronics LED spectacular to replace its original, vinyl signface, according to project manager Barry Winston, principal of New Jersey-based Winston & Co.
The new sign comprises two, asymmetric LED displays in the shape of a distorted V, with one side longer than the other. Both sign faces feature a Daktronics’ DVX series color, high-resolution 13mm display. The larger sign measures 36 x 41 ft. (840 x 952 pixels), and the shorter display spans 36 x 20 ft. (840 x 448 pixels).
Inglot has a unique location at Broadway and 47th St., in the heart of Times Square. As previously reported, (see ST, January 2010, page 54) part of Times Square has been permanently closed to traffic and converted to a pedestrian courtyard. All Broadway traffic going south must, at 47th St., turn away from the pedestrian area, and slow down (think extended dwell time) to make the turn, which puts the drivers in a direct sightline to the Inglot sign.
Besides having a unique location, the Inglot sign also features enhanced image resolution and a high-contrast design that uses miniature louvers to present a deeper black and sharper, more enriching color presentations.
Winston acknowledged Inglot’s lipstick and nail-polish and cosmetic color spectrum – with its very subtle, wide range of shades that satisfies all customer preferences. With the Daktronics DVX displays, the tones were showcased on its new screens – and deliver a natural look almost equal to its countertop counterparts.
Novotel Hotel
Nested within the Times Square area at Broadway and 52nd Street, Chartres Lodging Group, LLC., the owner of the luxury Novotel Hotel, decided to upgrade its building signage with a state-of-the-art LED sign that spans almost the entire height of the building. The graphic design was completed by Bright Lines Creative, LLC and Stonehill & Taylor Architects, PC. With the design in hand, the LED sign was manufactured with D3 (Rancho Cordova, CA) LED tiles presenting the hotel’s name with the N turned sideways at the bottom and extending upwards to spell out Novotel. Fabrication and installation of the sign was provided by American SignCrafters (Islip, NY).
“The Novotel LED display, approximately 232 ft. tall and 13 ft. wide, was retrofitted into a vertical alcove on the building’s edge,” Frank Barnes, D3’s executive sales director, said. “To ensure the LED display would maintain a high level of visibility within Times Square, we provided full-color, 16mm SMD modules. Within its design format, the letters N-O-V-O-T-E-L are spelled out on the upper third of the display, in a very refined look for both day and night. Beginning at the lower portion of the sign and escalating upwards, integrated modules present a subtle, strobe-lighting effect.”
In addition to illuminating the hotel’s name, Barnes said the LED modules are full-RGB capable and programmable like any other video display. Initially, the hotel will utilize a slow-changing, monochromatic design that provides themed graphic images that can vertically stream up and down the sign.
American SignCrafters partnered with D3 in the sign’s production. Tom Garatina, the company’s business manager, said the new sign comprises 24 steel-framed, aluminum-skinned cabinets. D3 built 10 of the cabinets and had already installed the LED displays. In turn, American Signcrafters built the remaining 14 cabinets.
“American Signcrafters collaborated with D3 to develop how the cabinets would interlock, once completed and installed on the side of the building,” said Garatina. “Jeff Petersen, American Signcrafters’ president, devised the fabrication process.”
Once American Signcrafters received the cabinets from D3, the shop covered them with a 1/8-in.-thick, “Novotel blue” aluminum skin to match the fully fabricated cabinets. Garatina said American Signcrafters also created a series of aluminum cut-outs of the hotel’s letter forms, which were placed over the LED faces to create a clean, even look for the hotel’s name across the cabinets. Because the LED sign cabinets are front-serviced, the letters are removable for easy display access.
American SignCrafters handled all sign-cabinet fabrication, and, in several trips, worked onsite at the Novotel. The LED cabinets were brought in at night (no lane closures were allowed during daytime) and offloaded from their flatbed trailers by a 150-ft.-reach National crane to a hotel terrace directly below the signs’ eventual placement. In the daytime, a rooftop hydraulic hoist lifted the cabinets up onto the hotel’s side wall. From the bottom up, American Signcrafters stacked the cabinets on top of each other flush to the building’s roofline. Installers used previously set, J-clip anchor points to align the sign cabinets and guide them to where they were bolted to the building wall.
From start (setting anchor points on the building) to finish (mounting the LED cabinets), the overall sign installation required approximately 12 days; electrical work took another three weeks. Once completed, the Novotel Hotel sign easily fit into the surrounding Times Square skyline.
Express at 1552 Broadway
A recent Times Square addition, Express (a causal-wear retailer) introduced its flagship location with an LED display system more than three times the height of its retail store, located at the northeast corner of Broadway and 46th St. The display measures approximately 8,500 sq. ft. and features seven illustrious signfaces.
Uniquely, the 1552 Broadway LED sign system was developed by the building’s landlord, S.L. Green Realty Corp., as a permanent building improvement. Normally, the tenant provides the identifying sign for the duration of a lease, after which they remove their sign.
“Pushing the limits of permitted signage possibilities allowed us to maximize the viewing potential of the Express Times Square sign,” Roger Merriman, Green’s construction VP, said. “The unique solution allowed for all of 1552 Broadway’s LED displays to project in front of and above the building. The job connects the 200-ton sign structure to the walls of the adjacent, 17-story structure without a corner column. In effect, it hovers above 1552 Broadway.”
As owner representatives, Sensory Interactive (Baltimore) provided consulting services to Green for the display’s entire development and construction: creating product specifications, administering the RFPs, determining the preferred LED sign manufacturer, defining the final design, and managing fabrication and installation.
“The owner planned for its LED spectacular to create an iconic display, so all Times Square pedestrians could experience its content,” Randy Byrd, Sensory Interactive’s president, said. “Our goal was to provide a sufficiently large digital canvas for a flagship retailer, and to complement the historical landmark’s 46th St. building façade. Doing so meant working within the city’s zoning and historic-preservation requirements to facilitate extending the display faces out beyond the face of the building.” This provided the ultimate view-
ing opportunities for the entire “bowtie” area that marks the crossroads of Broadway and Seventh Aves.
The challenge? Appropriately supporting a display that couldn’t be roof mounted in the desired position. So, Green negotiated partnership rights with the owner at the adjacent, 1560 Broadway property, Byrd said. The 1560 building also wraps around the smaller building on two sides, and was used as the structural support system that ultimately holds the LED displays in place over 1552 Broadway.
The LED displays, provided by S|N|A LLC (Ballston Lake, NY), comprise four major sign segments: two, 43 x 51-ft., LED displays, a 30 x 40-ft. signface, and another, 66 x 28-ft. messageboard. Three of the sign segments had returns large enough to constitute separate sign faces; two measure 43 x 7+ ft., and the third spans 30 x 7+ ft. All the S|N|A LED displays feature the company’s S/Video™ 10mm, outdoor-grade SMD product. Given the sign industry’s “new math,” the four signs yielded seven signfaces for use as advertising space.
To create the signs’ mounting structure, Sensory Interactive and Green commissioned structural engineer R. Scott Lewis, who collaborated with them to create a truss-like, steel framework that’s mounted to 1560 Broadway with 12 connection points that tie the structure to the building and control wind load.
“This design facilitated a cantilevered structure with three support columns and no column at the fourth corner of the sign structure,” Byrd said. “Once in place, it became an anchoring structure that allowed the placement of the top two, west-facing, and a single, south-facing, LED display.”
Below those signs, the fourth LED sign was wall-mounted at the top front of 1552 Broadway. Three west-facing signs appear as a singular display mounted in front of and above 1552 Broadway, and all face the Times Square pedestrian mall. Around the corner, the fourth LED display was also mounted on the south-facing steel structure, and acted like a beacon, drawing potential customers up towards the north end of Times Square to see Express’ latest causal-wear collections.
In competing with other, nearby Times Square spectaculars, in terms of size, location, and SMD LED technology, Byrd said, “In a unique design nuance for the west-facing sign cabinet, instead of the normal flat return, which would give the display a box-like look, each west-facing side ends with a gentle curving radius. With this novel approach, the ends of each of the west-facing signs were able to curve around to its south-facing side. Obviously, the feature catches the eye of pedestrians approaching the displays from the south.”
As S|N|A managing director Dennis Hickey noted, installation of the various 1552 Broadway LED displays was handled by North Shore Neon (Deer Park, NY) over a two-month period, and it involved the installing and mounting the S|N|A LED displays upon the supporting truss structure. Weir Welding Co. (Carlstadt, NJ) welded and installed the final support structure.
Vinyl sticks around
Despite LEDs’ increased penetration throughout Times Square, and the shrinking presence of neon and incandescent lights, vinyl still graces billboards and, in a few instances, building wraps.
One static-billboard operator said, within a few years, most of Times Square will be a huge collage of LED screens. He believes that will create an advertising paradigm shift back to static billboards. He foresees vinyl as a future “retro” advertising format that will regain popularity as an OOH media platform for outdoor campaign coverage.
Jordon Schaps, president of East Coast operations for Van Wagner (NYC), an outdoor-advertising company that manages a large inventory of billboards in Times Square, said advertisers still have strong interest in static or print graphics, and noted that his clients prefer static billboards because they like the idea of temporarily “owning” a solid, always visible, permanent (and unshared) position in Times Square.
Yes, Times Square is a very happy place. In a demonstration of social media’s power and The Beatles’ continuing popularity, Paul McCartney tweeted to New Yorkers to promote an impromptu solo concert, “to be in 15 minutes or so, on-site in Times Square.” Talk about short-notice advertising. Yet, within that time, approximately 1,000 people showed up. To see the performance, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gas1jVqtG_E  
Were they happy? You betcha. Sign companies that serve Times Square clients should plan for another busy year in 2014. They should be pretty happy as well.