Miami-Dade County

Miami Tower changes colors instantly with new LED lights

Already Miami’s most distinctive skyscraper, the Miami Tower can now illuminate the night with a rainbow-colored lightshow.

All it takes is a few seconds on a smartphone to switch the 47-story tower from looking like a virtual American flag to a rippling whirlpool in varying shades of turquoise and green, or a dynamic sunrise of red, orange and yellow. The color changes can spread from the center of the building out like a starburst or float vertically across like a wave crashing on the shore.

The dramatic new statement on the downtown skyline is the result of a $1.5 million, state-of-the-art LED lighting system that has been installed on the tower’s exterior during the last nine months. It’s believed to be the biggest installation of LED lights on a building exterior anywhere in the U.S. The Empire State Building is finishing a similar upgrade, but only on a small portion of the building.

“We want to reinforce the tower’s position as the premier building in the Miami skyline,” said Tom Matese, general manager of the building. “It can be an evolving piece of art on the Miami skyline. The possibilities are really endless. It’s all about what your mind can create.”

The Miami Tower, designed by architect I.M. Pei and built in 1987 as the CenTrust Tower (named for the defunct savings and loan), has always had the capability of lighting the sky in a static presentation. That notoriety made it a signature shot in the old Miami Vice television show, as well as movies like the James Bond flick Casino Royale and almost every television shot of the Miami skyline. Usually the building was bathed in one of a handful of solid colors or basic combinations like red, white and blue for July 4th. Because the previous changing system was slow and labor intensive, colors rarely changed more than about once a month.

This takes the presentation to a new level — and is better for the environment. The new lights reduce energy usage by 92 percent, saving $260,000 a year and reducing CO2 emissions by more than 1.2 million . The installation replaced 382 1,000-watt lights with 216 lights that average 180 watts per fixture.

“The technology was old and very expensive to operate, but we didn’t want to eliminate the lighting because it’s such an iconic building on the Miami skyline,” said Ty Spearing, managing director at LaSalle Investment Management, the building’s Chicago-based owner. “We needed to bring the lighting into the current century.”

Gone are the days when someone had to manually change the colored gels on each of the 382 lights. That took 12 man hours of work and involved visiting the rooftops of neighboring skyscrapers. The cost savings in time, gels and leases on other buildings amounts to an additional $130,000 a year.

The beauty of the new computerized system is that it can be controlled by a few keystrokes from anywhere in the world. The possible color combinations are enormous: 16 million hues can be displayed in seemingly endless different patterns and dynamic effects. Each of the building’s 47 floors can be a different color, for instance; the lights can also chase around the building in a circle or simulate an effect of exploding fireworks. “You can create any color that you can visibly see,” said Gavin Cooper, vice president of LED Source, the Wellington company that did the installation of the Philips Color Kinetics lights. “It can change color so fast it will give you a headache.”

Local businesses and charities can pay to transform the building to promote or commemorate special events. Two charities a month can apply to get the lighting for free; nightly rental prices will range from $1,000 to $3,000 per night. Prices are lowest for charities and building tenants get a discount over the cost charged to other businesses. Weekday prices are cheaper than weekends.

While the new lighting facility wasn’t designed to be a money maker, it seems likely to turn out that way. Building managers already have received a huge number of requests, and owners now expect the lights to generate about $25,000 a year, Spearing said.

The new lighting is part of several technology-related upgrades to the tower installed by LaSalle Investment Management, which purchased the 623,000-square-foot building in late 2010 for $106 million. Additions include Wi-Fi in common areas and elevator screens that broadcast live news. Coming soon is a new tech-savvy design for the building’s sky lobby and sky terrace.

“Tenants are attracted to buildings with current technology throughout,” Spearing said.

Chuck Rosenberg, managing shareholder at the Miami office of law firm Carlton Fields, which is the Miami Tower’s largest tenant, say the lighting is a bonus selling point.

“Tenants take pride in it,” Rosenberg said. “It’s a modern marketing and branding device that people will only benefit from.”

But don’t expect the light show to be as dramatic as say, the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas.

“This is a professional Class A office building and we need to uphold a certain image,” Spearing said. “We’re not going to do anything too crazy.”

Except, maybe, on New Year’s Eve.