Non-profit Looking at New Ways to Light Up Downtown

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Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff

Photo above by Andy McKeever

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Elie Hammerling was vacationing in Arizona when he saw private buildings and businesses all lit up with color kinetic. He wondered what it would take to have that in Pittsfield.

“I started thinking whether Pittsfield, scaled to Pittsfield, could embrace lighting the street, storefronts, buildings,” Hammerling said.

So he formed the non-profit Berkshire Lightscapes last year to bring it downtown. The board found Philips Lighting and consultants Apex Lighting Solutions, which offered to let them try the lights out.

On Thursday, the group lit up the former Agricultural Bank building at 100 North St. so the community, other businesses, and the committee can see for themselves what it would be like here.

“These were presets but you can change them at will. You can coordinate them to music so if you had speakers out there, then the lights could actually move in sync with the music. There are an endless amount of possibilities,” said Cindy Malinchak, the northeast regional manager for Philips Lighting.

Philips is leaving the 14 lights with Berkshire Lightscapes for the next six months to try on different buildings. For the next 10 days, 100 North St. will be lit up but from there, the committee can move them to other buildings or spaces.

“We are going to leave them here with Berkshire Lightscapes for a period of time so each of the buildings could actually get to see their building mocked up as well. We’ve got 14 lights we’ll leave here for six months and anybody else who wants their buildings lit up,” Malinchak said.

David Carver, owner of CT Management Group which owns 100 North St., was pleased with the display on his building. He had been asked about doing it by Hammerling more than a year ago.

“I love it. I think it is a great idea. It lights up the downtown. Lighting in the dead of winter is a wonderful thing. It is done all over the country and has been very successful,” Carver said.

Allegrone Companies has expressed interest on some of its buildings as did Police Chief Michael Wynn for the Police Station. Malinchak said a local electrician — Pete Yetman, owner of Performance ECM — will be trained with how to program the displays. Yetman installed the fixtures at 100 North.

The color kinetics technology was first developed in the 1990s by students at Carnegie Mellon University. Philips later purchased the technology and expanded upon it. The lighting is now used throughout the country with the most notable sites being the Empire State Building, Park Place, and the Zakim Bridge.

Malinchak said the company is currently installing them on nine bridges and four tunnels in New York City, which all will be synced up to music and matching patterns in the sky. Malinchak said the benefits aren’t just in aesthetics but have proved to help with economic development of an area.

Hammerling added that it will also help toward providing safety for those walking the streets at night.

“It is partly for the beauty and artistic quality of it. But it is also to light up our streets for purposes of having people walk comfortably, feel safe, have the attractiveness of lighting. It is beauty and safety that are the two major reasons,” Hammerling said.

Hammerling said the demo taking place during these 10 days, and over the next six months, will gauge how interested the community is in bringing it to more public spaces and private buildings. The committee hopes to start fundraising to buy the technology for various areas.

“From this point forward everything we do is going to be permanent lighting. It is not an art show. It is not light art for a festival. It is to have permanent lights you will see when you are walking,” Hammerling said.

Later adding, “I’m very excited by tonight’s show but I think it is the beginning. I think there is so many things ahead of us.”

The lighting does come at a cost but Malinchak said the LED lights “actually pay for themselves from the energy savings.” She said the 14 lights being demoed by Berkshire Lightscape equals the wattage of a single flood light many building owners use for lighting.

And for any readers who come to check out the display at 100 North St., make sure you wave to us. We’re in the top middle window.