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House of Blues

Atlantic City’s Showboat Casino gains new attraction.

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In an effort to compete with the popular Borgata Hotel, Harrah's Entertainment brought their Las Vegas roots to Atlantic City. The $800 million Borgata, which opened in 2002 and attracted the attention of tourists, subsequently topped former number-one Atlantic City casino Harrah's, and former number-two Showboat (also a Harrah's property). Harrah's Entertainment decided to respond.

To gain more foot traffic and a younger audience, Harrah's Entertainment sought a new attraction. The group enticed the House of Blues® (HOB) to come to Showboat, their Boardwalk property. To get the HOB, Harrah's first had to renovate the interior and exterior of its building that faced the Boardwalk, which would also include adding a 100-ft.-tall glass and glass-fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) pylon beacon.

HOB is a home for live music and Southern-inspired cuisine in an environment that celebrates the African-American cultural contributions of blues music and folk art. In 1992, a converted historical house in Cambridge, MA, became the original HOB. Other locations soon followed. With enormous success throughout the country, including popular tourist areas like Las Vegas and Orlando (Downtown Disney), HOB seemed like a perfect choice to help draw attention to Showboat.

With HOB on board, architect Friedmutter Group (Atlantic City, NJ) and graphic design firm Gensler (San Francisco) developed a signage and graphics program that tied the HOB brand with the current Showboat architecture. As a design/build project, Broadway National, a New York City-based signage and lighting company, worked closely with the architect and graphic designer to develop the exterior façade. Broadway National served as sign engineer, fabricator and installer for the project.

Developing the beacon

The first step in the HOB project was to design/build the largest beacon of light on Atlantic City's Boardwalk. The Showboat Hotel & Casino is located on the Boardwalk's farthest eastern point.

Therefore, a light beacon needed to be seen from the other side of the Boardwalk and from inbound airplanes. The project team met multiple times to conclude that, to gain the most attention, the pylon beacon needed full illumination, glass and illuminated channel-letter identification.

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Selecting the illumination type was difficult. It needed to glow in the HOB color, cobalt blue, but filling a 12,000-cubic-ft. glass pylon with neon or linear LED wasn't feasible. Furthermore, the pylon needed to be filled with a significant support structure to meet local codes and hurricane wind loads.

Broadway suggested Color Kinetics' (Boston) ColorBlast LED lighting product. Using 300 ColorBlasts and spread-glass lenses, the glass pylon could illuminate uniformly, maintain the signature color, reduce energy consumption and offer service dependability.

The ColorBlast 12 unit, which provides 16.7 million RGB colors, was easily programmed to meet the cobalt-blue specification. The unit consumes 50W at 110-240 VAC. With neon, the sign would have required approximately 132,000W to illuminate evenly. This sign now consumes approximately 15,000W. In addition to meeting the exact color specification, the LED Color-Blast consumed 1⁄9th the energy of neon.

Because the pylon had catwalks, platforms and structural steel trussing, locating an illumination source was a challenge. Using the ColorBlast, which has a 6 x 12-in. face, Broadway National could effectively position the units throughout the pylon and avoid structural obstructions. Diffusers were added to the fixtures to soften the illumination from within.

The channel letters were included as a brand element to the glass beacon. To keep the contrast, we added a white neon border around the designer's laser-routed stainless faces. We drilled through the insulated glass and mounted stainless-steel fabricated letters with a white neon border to add contrast to the glowing background. The letters were mounted to the full glass-mullion panels and erected into place as full sections.

Modifying the façade

Next, we formulated the design to modify the façade. For HOB, Harrah's Entertainment added a three-level nightclub that offers an expansive bar, dance floor and third-floor VIP private seating and bottle service. The exterior façade featured a 100-ft. pylon and 350 ft. of stainless-steel, neon "eyebrows" and LED ticker "eyebrows."

The marquee, engineered and built by Broadway National, contained a 12mm-pitch LED video display that faced west toward neighboring casinos, and an illuminated, digital-print ad box that faced east. Because the Showboat's foot traffic comes from the west, implementing two LED displays on either side wasn't cost effective. In the center, the designers created an "old-fashioned" changeable-message sign with monthly event listings.

The "eyebrows" comprise multilayered stainless steel. In keeping with the marquee and the flow of pedestrian traffic, the west-facing eyebrow includes a monochrome, red ticker display, and the east side has five rows of clear, red neon.

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As part of the façade, Gensler added cobalt-blue pilasters as glowing lanterns to tie in all the components. The lanterns were illuminated with the Color Kinetics I-Cove. Because the GFRC was installed prior to Broadway's arrival onsite, and without access hatches for lighting, Broadway designed and installed the I-Cove LED product on 30-ft.-long sliding trays. The trays are pulled through the top of the pilaster. Broadway added white Lexan polycarbonate diffusers within the pilasters to spread the light evenly.

Cobalt-blue, exposed-neon channel letters and other identification signage finished off the façade. The exotic color of the cobalt-blue neon on these open-face channel letters finished off the sign.

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