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Media1 Clears Hurdles to Refurbish Mall at Millennia Signage

Fixing cut files and cleaning up paint tracks all part of a day’s work

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Welcome back! We ended our February column with serious problems with the complete refurbishment of four massive, marble-based monument-sign structures leading into Orlando’s Mall at Millennia, the city’s premier shopping destination.
Because the 20 x 25-ft. structures were impossible to remove and transport back to our shop – and because the client refused a complete rebuild – we were forced to handle the renovations in the field. Here, though, “the field” meant roadway medians, with over 150,000 daily mall patrons streaming in around us. These aren’t the best working conditions, especially when spraypainting.
Each monument’s signface measures 10 x 17 x 2 ft. They feature double-sided aluminum cabinets, with acrylic push-through logo elements – a palm tree and 15-ft.-long, crescent arch. Under the palm trees is the text, “Mall at Millennia,” which was produced with 12-in.-tall, reverse-lit neon channel letters. In addition, one side of each sign features a 20-ft.-tall aluminum tower with a custom acrylic lamp on top that required a complete rebuild. Thirteen years of Florida sunshine had taken their toll on the signs. The neon and interior metal-halide lighting was dead, and paint on the structures had faded and peeled, with multiple areas of corrosion.

Doing it right
Transitioning from one sign to the next, the Media 1 crew began by removing all existing reverse-lit channel letters and push-through logos. We brought these elements back to the shop to receive fresh coats of Matthews acrylic-polyurethane paint and new Hanley LEDs. Meanwhile, our subcontracted commercial painters were sanding, doing bodywork, and applying primer and an electrostatic coating to the cabinets and lamp towers.
Well, that’s what they were supposed to have done, but they apparently neglected the first three steps and went straight to the painting. Of course, the clients were none too pleased when they saw the first sign. The bodywork was atrocious, and the “e-stat” paint’s texture was dry and lumpy. The painters had no clue how to fix the issue – their experience was less than they’d claimed. We removed spraypainting from the jobber’s workload, and had them just sand and prep the last three – and completely restrip the first one.
Now what? Media 1’s painters came to the rescue. Although booked on other projects, Rene Mendez, Greg Berry and I decided we needed to prime and spray these monuments. To provide proper results, the mall allowed us to stay past our typical 10 a.m. cut-off time, but only on spraying days.
Armed with a generator, HVLP guns and gallons of Matthews satin-finish, low-VOC urethane, Mendez and I climbed 12-ft. ladders (we also rented a snorkel lift) and, after a base primer was sprayed, came back and laid down the color. We worked from the top down in 4-ft.-long., horizontal passes, while Berry fed us new cups of catalyzed paint – and occasionally waved hello to mall patrons. We were extremely impressed with this Matthews coating. We’d only been spraying their low-VOC product on select jobs, and never out in the field. It laid down smoothly, and we’d sprayed the entire cabinet and tower within 90 minutes. And it was beautiful – like we’d sprayed it in our paint booth. After an initial fiasco, Media 1 looked like a hero, and the client’s faith had been restored.
Back at the shop, Media 1 had stripped the channel letters, sanded them and sprayed Matthews high-reflective white inside the letters, and the mall logo’s blue on their exteriors. Next, fabricators installed Hanley LEDs throughout the letters.

Design on the fly
The original logo elements featured a 0.05-in., aluminum face adhered to the ¾-in.-thick clear acrylic. The palm tree graphic was handpainted on this aluminum skin, and the crescent aluminum matched the channel letter colors. We knew the thin metal would bend once we peeled it off the acrylic, so we CNC router-cut new aluminum skins for the crescents and palm trees. The tree skins would receive digital prints completed on 3M vinyl, and the crescents would just be painted.
That was a great plan, except that the client had no original shop drawings. No art precisely matched this older version of the mall’s logo. Our lead designer, Jason Wissig, recreated new cut files of the old artwork. The tree only took a few shots, and he hit it dead on. The crescents were fairly easy to match as well.
After a few trial-and-error paper patterns completed with the damaged metal overlays, we matched the 15-ft. arch spot-on. Dom Ream, our router-table operator, cut eight new palm trees and crescents from 0.08-in. aluminum. They were sent to the vinyl and paint departments, respectively, for decoration. Things moved smoothly – until we began installing the new crescent skins over the refurbished, push-through acrylic crescents already reinstalled back on the signs.
Who would think that on four identical sign structures, the original sign company would have fabricated different size crescents on each? Now, I was pulling my hair out. I yelled out to Ream, “Dom, can you recut eight more 15-foot aluminum crescent arches, please? But only after Jason recreates eight different cut files!”

Onsite slapstick
Meanwhile, back in the field, Rene, Greg and I were rolling right along and painting the last monument. I arrived onsite early one particularly foggy morning, waiting for Rene and Greg to show up in the work van. A few minutes later, they pulled up and stopped in the middle of the main entry roadway to throw everything we needed out of the van before we blocked traffic. Rene opened the side door of the van, and an entire gallon of beige Matthews urethane hit the asphalt and exploded. We watched in disbelief as the sticky paint oozed over the main entrance. It’s 6:45 a.m. – this isn’t happening!
As the paint dripped off the door, Rene, in a panic, jumped in the van to get it off the pavement, ran over the puddle of paint and left 100 ft. of beige tire tracks. We looked like The Three Stooges out there, and it was killing me!
Working fast to prevent the client from noticing, we used our entire stash of rags and reducer, and spent an hour cleaning up the asphalt and our van’s interior. Giant…sticky…mess. We managed to finish by 8 a.m. We were ready to start painting. As soon as we began … rain. All I could say was, “Back in the van guys, this morning is shot.”

Keeping them happy
After a month of drama and headaches, we were finished. Most importantly, each refurbished sign looked light-years better than it did a month earlier. They were fresh, and their LEDs were amazingly bright. We’d finished a successful refurb project – or so we thought, until our walk-through with the client.
Apparently, they had already done their own walk-through, and arrived carrying a three-ring binder. The binder contained a section for each sign, and each section had multiple, 11 x 17-in., foldout photos of everything they wanted addressed. For example, they’d removed the 2 x 3-ft. access door from underneath each sign, and climbed inside to uncover candy-bar wrappers, soda cans and broken lights that had clearly been there for 13 years; they ordered us to clean out every structure.
They also took photos of a paint-laden tire track we left in one section of grass, and instructed us to put down new sod. It’s a good thing we’d cleaned up that paint! They presented a 12-item punch list for each sign. Some were legitimate, but most went well beyond our initial project scope. What do you do in a case like this? You take care of it – eating costs if necessary – until they love it, period.
It took us another several trips, but we handled everything to their satisfaction, and – the part that makes it all worthwhile – they handed us the big, fat, well-earned check.
 

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