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Mark Kissling

LED for Neon Retrofit for a 50-Year-Old Rooftop Sign

The Kahler Grand Hotel in Minnesota burns bright again with LED border lighting.




LED replaces neon as the light source for this well-known, five decades-old rooftop sign in Minnesota. LED replaces neon as the light source for this well-known, five decades-old rooftop sign in Minnesota.

YOU KNOW A ROOFTOP installation is tricky when using a helicopter is considered. That was the case with the recent upgrade of the locally iconic Kahler Grand Hotel sign in Rochester, MN. The hotel is also known for its close proximity to the world-famous Mayo Clinic. La Crosse Sign Group (Onalaska, WI) had been servicing the old hotel sign for many years and discussing a possible upgrade for nearly a decade with the hotel’s ownership group, according to company President Joel House.

The sign to be replaced — neon with glass tubing — dated back to 1971. The neon version featured a steel structure with open-faced fabricated steel letters and red neon border lighting. Last spring, after more than five decades in service, the landmark’s lights dimmed, possibly for the last time. But working with La Crosse Sign ensured the ownership group’s desire to see the sign retain its historical look and place in the community, while also moving forward with the future.

The design process required a lot of collaboration, House says. “The original font used in the sign was not available, so we had to draw the replacement sign font through survey information and drone footage,” he says. During the design process, La Crosse Sign established with the client the importance of servicing access to the letters from the rear due to the challenges of the location and the fact that all three sides of the sign hang over the rooftop.

La Crosse additionally handled the fabrication of the letters and lighting for the project. The 10-ft. aluminum “KAHLER” letters were built by hand over four months in two sections due to their size. All received a powder-coated finish for longevity. For the lighting, La Crosse spec’d Principal LED Street Wrap Flex Side‑Bend border lighting. The shop also used Principal Services’ DMX Infinity to control the RGB lighting. Before they could install the new letters, the substructure was restored by Building Restoration Corp. (Rochester, MN).

“We looked at large lifts to mount the letters but the ground around the building would not support the weight load,” House says. As mentioned at the outset, the option of installing using a helicopter was explored but that was deemed too costly. “Collaborating with the restoration company who installed the scaffolding was the key to accomplishing the work,” he adds. “Installing the new sign safely took many planning meetings.”


Building Restoration erected approximately 20 x 55-ft. scaffolding with three levels of platforms. Sections of the scaffolding spanned over the rooftop on all three sides. La Crosse’s team installed one side at a time, with each side of the three-sided sign wired into one of three main power boxes containing power supplies, amplifiers and a decoder to control each side.

No boom trucks were used to install the sign, House says. The letters were transported to the top of the parking garage, then brought to the rooftop via a swing-stage scaffolding. Hoists were used to mount the letters onto the structure. A team of six installers worked on this final phase of the project for a little over two months.

The result is yet another neon sign retrofitted with LEDs — and in a large-scale outdoor setting. The new sign lit for the first time in public in December, just in time for the holiday season, and the renovated sign is the first of many more planned renovations at the Kahler Grand coming this year.

“Installing the new sign safely took many planning meetings,” House says. A lesson that a sign company’s leader could learn from this project is to begin with the end in mind, he says.





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