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Shawn Vestal: A feeling of the future in the lights of downtown Spokane

Spokane’s evenings have sure gotten a lot more colorful.

The Steam Plant towers blaze nightly. The Grand Hotel and the Fox and the old Masonic Temple glow in changing hues. Hospitals went red to highlight heart disease; snowflakes and hearts and thank-yous are projected onto downtown buildings and the Clocktower.

And the upper rim of the Lincoln Building – the old reliable, the granddaddy of Spokane’s cool downtown night lights – continues to use all manner of colors and combinations to brighten the evening skyline.

Whether you’re downtown, or simply gazing toward it – from Cliff Drive or Kendall Yards or coming down I-90 into town – the splash of color and light has brightened the city’s outward face, given the town a new sense of life and vitality.

It might sound like an exaggeration – it’s just color and light, after all – but the visual brightening seems like a simple but potent expression of the larger sense of excitement and optimism and growth in town these days.

Light’s on, everybody’s home.

“It’s excitement,” said Justin Haas. “You associate all that color with an event or something happening.”

Haas is surely biased – the Spokane Valley company he owns, AMPD Lighting and Audiovisual, has been behind a lot of the new downtown lighting – but he’s not wrong.

The lights are cool.

And I’d extend that highly scientific assertion to some of the smaller-scale lighting, too, including the white lights on the downtown trees and the Review tower, and new businesses taking advantage of the colored-light technology on storefronts, and the Parkade and Washington Water Power signs, and even some of the current commercial nighttime signs.

The trend of colored night lighting has accelerated along with advances in LED technology that have lowered prices and greatly improved lighting systems.

“There has just been a proliferation of lighting systems,” said Andrew Rolwes, the public policy and parking manager for the Downtown Spokane Partnership.

The DSP has purchased two lighting systems that it’s loaned out. One system uplights the south-facing upper walls of the Grand Hotel, and the other lights the north side of the Fox, Rolwes said.

The Lincoln Building has been one of the longest-standing examples of night lighting in town; for years it used the old system of large lights colored by gels placed over the lights. Now it is one of the most variable and active sources of evening lighting there is.

“They do as much as you can do with a lighting system, and have come up with a wonderful, creative lighting application that has benefited downtown,” Rolwes said.

As colorful as Spokane nights are now, they will only become more so, with additional businesses and organizations and individuals taking advantage of the technology, and as large public projects such as the new pedestrian bridge connecting the University District and East Sprague Avenue and the new light-spangled Pavilion cover are completed.

The U-District pedestrian bridge, scheduled to be completed this fall, is marked by a central arched pillar supporting cables. Mark Serbousek, project manager for the city, said that 120-foot-tall pillar will be lit by a system of LED lights – illuminating what promises to be a dramatic addition to the skyline.

And Riverfront Park’s new Pavilion cover promises to become one of the most impressive night sights in the city, when it is finished in a couple of years. The decision by city officials to not completely cover the Pavilion as it was during Expo ’74 was met with criticism from people who seemed surprisingly devoted to that particular design element, but what the city came up with is – to my eyes – a more attractive and interesting prospect.

The Pavilion will be covered with a network of wires hung with rectangular light panels that can be programmed to change color and move and dance in a seemingly infinite number of ways. (You can see a demonstration video with this column at spokesman.com.)

It looks to be a pretty spectacular addition to our ever-more-colorful nights.


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