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Tower Power
Toronto's latest signage spectacular makes an impact on Dundas Square.
Tower Power

Seven years ago, the intersection of Toronto’s Yonge and Dundas streets was declining. Seeing the downward trend, development and city leaders joined forces to revitalize the area. Run-down buildings were razed to make room for office space, shops, restaurants and entertainment venues; a public square, replete with fountains, green space and a stage for live concerts and events, serves as the heart of the redevelopment. In an effort to encourage growth, city officials made exceptions to some sign ordinances to allow installation of large-scale signage and displays.

Today, the newly developed area features an urban pulse designed to draw both residents and tourists to Dundas Square. In addition to the park and concert area, large billboards and sign spectaculars noticeably characterize the area’s development.

A 187-ft. media tower outside of the Toronto Eaton Centre, which integrates video, moving displays and choreographed lighting effects, is the latest wave of signage appearing in Toronto’s Dundas Square -- which some developers say will become the city’s version of Times Square.

The owners of the Eaton Centre -- a shopping and mixed-use complex that entertains a million weekly visitors and is billed as Canada’s top tourist destination -- constructed the mixed-media tower, which features 7,500 sq. ft. of advertising space, outside a new entrance to the facility. The $37 million development includes the tower, a new entrance and a new store, said John Sullivan, senior vice president of development for Cadillac Fairview.

Dominant theme

Cadillac Fairview, Eaton Centre’s developer and owner, hired Kramer Design Assoc. (Toronto) to put a new spin on the “media tower” concept, which has become popular in Dundas Square. The 18-story tower offers a new take on advertising availability: A major advertiser can dominate each component of the tower for 12 minutes of every hour, Sullivan said.

Instead of using a single type of sign, designers decided to take a few types of technology and “marry them together to create a bit of a show,” Sullivan said.

KDA was involved from the project’s beginning as designer and general contractor for construction and installation. To help determine the appropriate display concept for the Eaton Centre and Dundas Square, KDA Principal/Creative Director Jeremy Kramer said they visited other major sign projects. New York City’s Times Square, London’s Piccadilly Circus, Las Vegas and Orlando all provided inspiration. Offering advertisers options that didn’t currently exist was a key objective for the structure. “To achieve this, we researched and selected product suppliers, manufacturers and installers to work for us as part of an integrated team,” Kramer said.

The mixed-media tower’s myriad components include two, 40 x 60-ft. tri-face displays provided by Swedish company Rite Sign’s Toronto office. The tower’s three-message, 26,000-lb. RiteSign Rapid System has 3,000 removable blades. Serviced from the front, the system will automatically shut down in high wind conditions, said Bill Mullen, Rite Sign’s vice president of sales for North America.

One 40 x 30-ft., full-color, high-definition LED screen from Barco Media (Logan, UT) displays changing video content and incorporates Barco’s SLite S10 tiles. KDA specified that the LED videoscreen was custom designed with a reduced louver size to improve the vertical viewing distance, which allows a better view for people at the tower’s foot, said Steve Simard, Barco’s market manager. Barco also supplied two, 40 x 8-ft., real-time, text-based, monochrome, LED news tickers.

A series of 40, 4 x 6-ft., scrolling panels, which change simultaneously to create a single 40 x 30-ft. image, was supplied by Revolution Display Systems (Toronto). The scrollers hold up to 30 individual images, Kramer said.

Eight LED light columns, which are programmed to change color to complement the tower’s content, were created by Color Kinetics (Boston), using its iColor Accent low-voltage, direct- view, linear LED light. The company’s Light System Manager controls the 2,002 ft. of the light product on the tower.

“The single most unique aspect of the tower is that a single advertiser can dominate all aspects of the tower for prescribed periods of time during its cycle,” said Peter Irwin, president of Outdoor Broadcast Network (OBN), Toronto, the media company responsible for operating the tower and handling the advertising.

Three dominant advertisers can monopolize the tower. The schedule runs in a 15-minute loop. The first dominant advertiser is shown on all tower components for three minutes. The tower then goes into random mode for two minutes, allowing a mix of advertisers to appear. The next three minutes provide tower domination by a second major advertiser, which is followed by two minutes of random mode and then three minutes for a third dominant advertiser. Other advertisers -- with smaller, shorter-term contracts than the dominant advertisers -- are showcased on the LED videoboard or the bank of scrollers during random mode.

Kramer said the tower can also serve as an accessory to events in the square by using the LED screen to show live feeds of those events. The tower also features audio capabilities.

Tower operation

To ensure seamless content flow across the various sign media, OBN can monitor the tower at all times from its office via -- among other things -- a webcam that gives operators a streetside external view, Irwin said. A control room in Eaton Centre’s basement houses the tower’s operating systems. The signage can run automatically from a scheduled show, and it can be managed or altered from the onsite control room or at OBN, Sullivan said.

Custom-designed software created by IBI Group (Toronto) permits the various sign components to change content in unison. Each component’s operating system refers to a common clock to determine its schedule, said Ian Oliver, IBI Group director. IBI provided software to operate the tri-face signs and scrollers. The LED screen and light columns function on manufacturer-provided control systems.

IBI’s software features a preview function that allows an operator to view the scheduled show before it appears on screen. Files can also be e-mailed to advertisers so that they can preview the content in motion, as it will appear on the tower, Oliver said.


Installation of the tower required careful planning due to its position at a high-traffic intersection. Stephen Hurst, vice president of engineering and design for Atec Signs (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), the company that handled sign-frame fabrication and installation of all components, said the project offered some challenges. Working Sunday through Thursday from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., Atec’s team planned the installation around shipments of the various components, which came from suppliers spread out across the globe, Hurst said.

Additionally, Atec workers couldn’t just drive a crane up to the site and start working, Hurst said. A subway, which sits below street level at the tower site, prompted Atec’s engineers to work closely with the Toronto Transit Commission to be certain the heavy cranes wouldn’t collapse the subway tunnel.

“We had to calculate exactly which crane we were using, where the outriggers would be placed and that we were using the appropriate pad to distribute the weight of the crane,” Hurst said.

Each sign component on the tower is accessible for onsite maintenance and repair. Davit arms and swing stages, which are part of the tower’s equipment, allow front access to components. Walk-in boxes and catwalks allow rear service, Hurst said.

The Eaton Centre media tower is one signage project among several that have popped up in the area in the last few years, including the Atrium Media Tower (commonly referred to as the LG Tower because of that company’s long-term ad presence) completed in 2001 and the torch-shaped media tower atop the recently constructed Olympic Spirit building.

Project Players

Atec Signs (Brampton, Ontario, Canada): Fabricator/installer; Barco Media (Logan, UT): LED screen/ticker; Bell Canada (Toronto): Technology provider/sponsor; Cadillac Fairview Corp. (Toronto): Owner; Color Kinetics (Boston): LED light columns; IBI Group (Toronto): Control software; Kramer Design Assoc. (Toronto): Designer, builder and construction manager; Outdoor Broadcast Network (Toronto): Ongoing tower operation and advertising sales; Revolution Display Systems (Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada): Scrollers; RiteSign (Toronto office; headquartered in Örebro, Sweden): Tri-face boards; Sony Canada (Toronto): Technology provider/sponsor.

Spectaculars Abound

Toronto’s Dundas Square area features various sign spectaculars. In addition to the Eaton Centre Media Tower, other massive signs include the Atrium Media Tower, often referred to as the LG Tower. The 232-ft.-tall tower, created by Toronto real-estate developer Ellman Co., includes LG’s animated neon sign, an LED videoscreen, a monochrome LED board and various printed signs.

The Olympic Spirit entertainment complex pays homage to the Games with interactive games and exhibits. A torch-shaped media tower graces the exterior of the facility.

KDA designed a collection of videoscreens and static billboards atop Toronto’s Hard Rock Café.

Pen Equity’s Metropolis retail/entertainment complex is under construction. When complete, its exterior will be clad in billboards.

Reprinted from Signs of the Times magazine, February 2005.

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