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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Downtown Spokane buildings dressed up with light shows

Downtown Spokane is more colorful this Christmas, with the tall smokestacks at Steam Plant Square glowing green and red and new exterior lights on the Macy’s and Nordstrom stores.

They echo the Lincoln Building, which has sported holiday and special event lighting on the top floor since 2007.

The burst of color is driven in part by lower prices for the computerized LED fixtures that make up the newest displays. It’s also an effort to make downtown more exciting, say building owners and managers.

Color on buildings “makes downtowns come alive, and it distinguishes buildings,” said Ron Wells, a minority owner in Steam Plant Square and a longtime local developer.

It’s becoming more common worldwide, Wells and others said.

The Empire State Building in Manhattan received a computerized LED system in 2012; its owners take applications to celebrate cultures and causes with special colors or patterns. This year, a temporary LED light sculpture installed on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge was so popular that a nonprofit group raised $4 million to make it permanent. Philips, a leader in color exterior lighting systems, estimates the market for façade lighting in China alone next year at more than $600 million.

Spencer Sowl, Avista Corp.’s property manager for Steam Plant Square, said the goal in lighting the building’s iconic smokestacks was to make an impact.

“People are starting to recognize we have these great buildings, and we wanted to bring some recognition to them,” he said.

The 225-foot stacks were lit temporarily last spring in pink as a special project by Amp’d Entertainment for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.

After that, Sowl approached Amp’d owner Justin Haas about installing something permanent, Haas said.

Now Sowl can control the lights separately for each stack, with up to three colors each, from a desktop lighting controller. In November they were purple for pancreatic cancer awareness, then crimson and purple for the Apple Cup. The system was expensive, Sowl said, declining to be more specific. But he said it has been worth it in the recognition it’s brought to the retail, office and restaurant development.

The owners of the Lincoln Building at Riverside Avenue and Lincoln Street are looking at upgrading to a computerized LED system, said Alicia Barbieri, vice president of Goodale & Barbieri Co., which manages the building. Since about 2007, crews have regularly swapped out 142 lens covers on top-floor floodlights to create seasonal or themed effects: green in March, red, white and blue in July, orange in October, lilac in May. The potential energy savings of LEDs as well as ease of use appeal to the building’s owners, Barbieri said.

“Lighting has evolved so significantly,” she said.

That’s what prompted the Downtown Spokane Partnership to undertake two big lighting projects this fall, said Andrew Rolwes, public policy manager for the group. Tree lights in the downtown core were swapped out for cool-white LEDs, which create more ambient light on the sidewalks. And Amp’d Entertainment installed the exterior lighting systems at Macy’s and Nordstrom, which can be moved around to other buildings after the holidays.

“The lighting industry has produced units which are really great for architectural applications,” Rolwes said. “You can do multicolor fixtures that are programmable – you can basically do light shows.”

The downtown Business Improvement District paid for all the lights, which came to about $34,000, he said. The feedback on the installations has been positive, he said.

T.R. Wilkening was an early adopter of exterior color, installing green floodlights in front of his building just south of Interstate 90 in 2010. He’s also been pleased with the response.

“The main idea behind it was to make it a landmark,” he said of the Jefferson Professional and Medical Building. Tenants “absolutely love it.”

Wells, the developer, said he also has heard nothing but praise for the Steam Plant stacks, and can envision more creative lighting downtown.

“I don’t think we’re anywhere close to having too many lights in Spokane,” he said.

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