Gulf Tower 'turns' red over Pens goals
By Rob Rossi
Published: Saturday, May 18, 2013, 9:33 p.m.
Pittsburgh will be a red-light district when the Penguins score during the remainder of their Stanley Cup playoff run.
The Gulf Tower's roof, illuminated by energy efficient LED lights since last summer, was configured to resemble a goal light every time the Penguins scored in their Stanley Cup playoff game victory over Ottawa on Friday night.
Fans outside Consol Energy Center, watching the game on a giant video board in a parking lot previously home to Civic Arena, noticed the red-lit roof of the 44-story Gulf Tower after captain Sidney Crosby's second of three goals, around 8:15 p.m.
Soon, social media sites were abuzz with Pittsburgh's giant goal light.
“My 15-year-old son is dialed into the Pens on Twitter, and he kept hammering my cell phone with forwards of tweets from people who were noticing the tower from the parking lot,” said Larry Walsh, 42, of Squirrel Hill. “My phone was lighting up, too.”
Walsh is a senior vice president with Rugby Realty, a real estate company that controls about 3 million square feet in Pittsburgh — including the Gulf Tower and Frick Building.
A colorful display atop the Gulf Tower is nothing new. It is programmed to light up for 25 holidays (green for St. Patrick's Day), charities (orange for multiple sclerosis and blue for autism) and even wins by the local pro sports teams (black and gold, of course).
The Gulf Tower roof is lit nightly as a weather beacon from dusk to dawn.
Until Wednesday, however, turning it into a goal light was never considered.
Walsh had met with Bill Wareham, the Penguins' director of event presentation, to discuss a different project involving the team and the Gulf Tower. That project has not yet taken off, but Wareham proposed the possibility of a rooftop goal light.
Toronto tried something similar with CN Tower when its Maple Leafs played Boston in Round 1 of the playoffs.
Walsh already had technology at his disposal to change the Gulf Tower lights from a remote location. The Pirates considered but abandoned a plan to light the Gulf Tower from PNC Park when a player hit home runs.
(Ten years ago, when the roof was illuminated by high-pressure sodium light fixtures, a strobe light was set off for Pirates' home runs and wins at home.)
Walsh spent Thursday working on a simple goal-light display that could be triggered by Wareham from Consol Energy Center. Once logged onto the Gulf Tower light interface through a virtual private network (VPN), all Wareham must do to activate the goal light is click on an icon that reads “Hockey Goal.”
There was no test run, and Crosby's goal early in the first period on Friday night turned the Gulf Tower into a rotating red light for the first time. However, because there was still daylight when Crosby scored around 7:50 p.m., few people noticed.
That was not the case about 30 minutes later when Crosby scored his second goal. A darker sky provided the perfect backdrop for the Gulf Tower to stand out.
During the game, Wareham received word from Penguins employees that fans were posting photos of the rooftop goal-light on Twitter, but even he was surprised how quickly the idea became a success.
“It's another way the entire city can embrace the energy of a playoff run,” said Wareham, 29 and a Lower Burrell native.
Wareham's iPhone is configured with a program to control the rooftop lights, and he will continue to convert it into a goal light for Penguins goals throughout the playoffs.
Walsh said the light will turn more sophisticated starting with Game 3 in Ottawa on Sunday night.
The rotation effect is created by two sides of the Gulf Tower roof going dark while two sides are turned red. That created 15 “rotations” for the minute that the roof became a goal light after each Penguins' score Friday.
There will be 20 “rotations” for the minute after the Penguins' next goal in the playoffs.
“I've been looking at videos of actual goal lights, and I think we can find a way to incorporate that white flash you see when the light is spinning,” Walsh said. “There is a lot of possibility for us to take this to another level. This was kind of a rush, if you think about it.”
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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