The Great Outdoors

EVMS Waitzer Hall
(Image credit: Daktronics)

From the visually cluttered Times Square in New York City to the busy campus of Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in Norfolk, VA, creating eye-catching outdoor digital signage that really commands attention can be a challenge. Yet Daktronics delivered effective—and very different—solutions for both locations.

In Times Square, Daktronics installed a 24x48-foot LED digital billboard with 8mm pixel pitch for Heritage Outdoor Media on the Bow Tie Building at 1530 Broadway. In contrast, the company installed a curved LED ribbon marquee on the exterior of Waitzer Hall, an 11-story, glass enclosed building that opened in late 2020.

No Trouble with the Curve

At EVMS, Daktronics opted for a curved LED ribbon installed a few floors above street level on Waitzer Hall. The display, which was completed in Spring 2022, delivers school branding and messaging to passing pedestrians and motorists.

"We love the flexibility the sign provides us, and it has quickly become one of our commonly used means of communicating with our community.”

Dr. Vincent Rhodes, EVMS

The 53-foot long, 8.5-foot high marquee features 10mm pixel spacing to provide high-resolution image clarity as it bends around the building's flowing architecture. Working with Doug Martin, EVMS executive director of facilities, and his team, Daktronics quickly realized the natural curve and location higher in the building was a good fit for an LED ribbon. “This space allowed for Daktronics to develop a very dynamic and creative display that fits naturally into the original building design,” said Charley Bocklet, Daktronics regional sales manager.

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The curved display also solved an unanticipated design problem. “The decision to add external digital signage came later in our planning and our construction process,” explained Dr. Vincent Rhodes, associate vice president and chief communications officer, EVMS. “As a result, we need an option that would work with the existing building design. A flat sign would have limited our placement options and looked like an afterthought. The EVMS digital marquee takes advantage of a curve in the architecture to provide significantly more messaging space, while looking like the signage was intended to be there from the beginning."

Eastern Virginia Medical School Digital Signage

The curved LED ribbon at EVMS was designed to look like it was part of the initial building design. (Image credit: Daktronics)

Today, the digital marquee is used to display "good news about our school, community outreach, special events, awards earned, and public service announcements,” said Rhodes. “Our creative services and video production teams put the visuals together, and we update our content daily or weekly as needed.” Content is updated via Daktronics Venus Control Suite, which allows users to schedule content using cloud-based or hosted options for all levels of signage applications, as well as subdivide the sign into sections for multiple simultaneous messages.

EVMS chose Daktronics for the project based on a combination of quality and price. “Daktronics offered signage that accommodated the curved surface of our building, with the robust features we wanted at a price that fit our budget,” Dr. Rhodes said. “We love being able to subdivide the signage. We love the flexibility the sign provides us, and it has quickly become one of our commonly used means of communicating with our community.”

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Almost a year after it was installed, the EVMS digital marquee has become one of the school’s “go-to communications tactics,” said Dr. Rhodes. “The screen grabs attention for our campus-based and community-benefit messages.”

As for the reaction of the EVMS community to this prominent and very visible marketing tool? Rhodes said it has been very well received. “Our faculty, staff, and students are thrilled to see the good news being shared, and many community members have commented on how attention grabbing the signage is," he added. "We’ve even had requests from our campus partners and community nonprofits to add their messages to ours. It’s been a great way to build stronger partnerships and benefit our community.”

Big Apple Expectations

Just how big is signage—digital and otherwise—in Times Square? It’s so big that One Times Square, the wedge-shaped skyscraper also known as Times Tower, has been largely empty since 1995 and used primarily as a 25-story billboard.

It is in this incredibly sign-packed environment that Heritage Outdoor decided to add its Daktronics surface-mounted LED billboard—suitably named "New York, New York"— on the Bowtie Building. Certainly, it’s a great place for an LED billboard. According to Heritage Outdoor Media, an average of 260,000 daily visitors walked by the site in March 2022. Plus, the Bowtie Building is at center stage of the annual New Year’s Eve celebrations within Times Square.

Heritage Outdoor Media, Times Square

Heritage Outdoor Media’s digital billboard in Times Square required some creative installation solutions. (Image credit: Daktronics)

“We chose this project because we were introduced to the Torkian Group, who had the rights for the signing space and wanted a partner,” said James Manfredi, one of the managing partners and co-founders of Heritage Outdoor Media. “We thought this was a good opportunity because it allowed us to enter into the square. We also felt that the sign being positioned at street level would allow us to do interactive things with its messaging and drive revenue that way.”

According to Jeff Everson, Daktronics director of spectacular projects, the "New York, New York" LED billboard was custom-built for this site by the company’s plant in Sioux Falls, SD, based on the Daktronics DXB urban signage line. “We've been doing projects in Times Square for well over three decades now, and we've seen pixel pitches starting in the 20-25mm range that was kind of the gold standard and progressing down 10mm pixels for higher density and better picture resolution,” he said. “So going down to 8mm is a real advance.”

Installing the "New York, New York" LED billboard wasn’t easy, because Times Square is such a high-traffic area. Minimizing disruption due to construction was a must, so the sign was raised into place by crane in two sections to speed up the installation. Daktronics and Heritage Outdoor Media also worked together to modify the sign’s cabinet to make it easy to establish connections while staying within the rules of Torkian Group’s lease.

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“Normally a sign in Times Square is allowed to stand 8-10 feet off a wall,” said Manfredi. “But because of lease constraints, we couldn't come out more than 3 feet off the wall. So, we had to really work with Daktronics to redesign their cabinets so that we could fit within the rules. It was a big challenge, but we figured it out together. They also made it possible to open the back of the sign’s cabinet, so that someone could reach their hand in to make the connections. Normally, you couldn’t do this.”

Since being installed in late December 2022, the "New York, New York" LED billboard has been holding its own in Times Square’s visual clutter. “We've had a great reaction,” Manfredi said. “People are surprised about the placement of the sign, and they think it's a good quality location.”

James Careless

James Careless is an award-winning freelance journalist with extensive experience in audio-visual equipment, AV system design, and AV integration. His credits include numerous articles for Systems Contractor News, AV Technology, Radio World, and TV Tech, among others. Careless comes from a broadcasting background, with credits at CBC Radio, NPR, and NBC News. He currently co-produces/co-hosts the CDR Radio podcast, which covers the Canadian defense industry. Careless is a two-time winner of the PBI Media Award for Excellence.