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Sports Comerica Park, Detroit Tigers Stadium

Historical lighting creates sens of
nostalgia at festive Comerica Park

Since baseball is as traditional as apple pie, the sport has always tended to create a sense of nostalgia among Americans. When the Detroit Tigers constructed the team’s new 38,000-seat stadium, team owners, the Ilitch Group, wanted to build on that nostalgia by creating a structure reminiscent of the original Briggs Stadium, erected in the 1920s.

After the Tigers closed out the 1999 season in Tiger Stadium, located in a section of downtown Detroit known as “Cork Town”, team owners decided to kick off the new millennium in the new stadium—dubbed Comerica Park. The new facility would be constructed in Detroit’s “Theater District,” across from the renovated historic Fox Theater and next to the future site of the Detroit Lions Football Stadium.

The Comerica Park campus has an almost amusement park like atmosphere with its ornate tiger-laden carousel, a Ferris wheel with baseball-shaped cars and a Waltzing Waters fountain in center field that shoots up into the air 200 feet. The complex also includes a four-story parking garage and five parking lots.

Because of the park’s downtown locale and the number of people expected to flock to each game, safety became a primary issue for facility designers.
“The team owners mandated very high light levels—in the 8- to 10-footcandle range—for the streets, parking lots and the parking garage.

They wanted to create a sense of security so that people would feel comfortable getting out of their cars and walking to the stadium, then returning to their automobiles after dark,” related Keith Irtenkauf, lighting designer with Illuminating Concepts, Ltd., Farmington Hills, Michigan, and project manager for Comerica Park.

Before specifying luminaires for the campus, personnel from Illuminating Concepts toured Detroit’s city streets, trying to decide how to tie in the stadium streets and parking lots with the city beyond. The lighting fixtures that caught their attention were teardrop-shaped luminaires mounted to “spiked” poles that dated back to the late 1890s. The Illuminating Concepts team launched a search for fixtures that would replicate the original luminaires as nearly as possible.

The fixture specified is the historic-looking Esplanade® teardrop-style luminaire from Holophane, which replicates the earlier fixture almost exactly. The unit includes custom poles with a clamshell cast iron base and crane style single and twin cross arms. Holophane built the prototype for the 25-foot pole at its plant in Matamoros, Mexico. The poles and cross arms are dark olive green.

Holophane’s Computer Aided Lighting Analysis (CALA) software was used to design the lighting system. Because of the high light levels mandated by the Tigers owners, Holophane manufactured a 400-watt version of the Esplanade fixture, which is used with a metal halide lamp.

“Since we were going to use higher wattage lamps than are typically specified with the Esplanade fixtures, we had some concerns about glare,” said Irtenkauf. “However, glare has never been a problem. The lighting is comfortable and uniform enough that a person could read a newspaper while standing on the street.”

The luminaires are spaced 75 to 120 feet on the roadway, and 120’ x 100’ feet in the parking lots. A total of 108 poles and 231 luminaires are installed. The Esplanade units also illuminate the exterior of the parking garage and the Tigers’ corporate offices. The units are wall mounted on custom wall brackets designed by Illuminating Concepts.

Illumination levels on the streets and in the parking lots average 12 footcandles, which exceeds the original requirements. Twenty of the Esplanade poles include shielded spotlights that highlight larger-than-life precast tiger heads incorporated into the stadium facade. The spotlights are mounted near the head of the poles and extend about 6 inches from the pole shaft. The poles are designed to support the extra weight.

Holophane Bantam® Prismatite® fixtures with 175-watt metal halide lamps are installed on the concrete ceiling in the parking garage. The units are pendant mounted at 8 feet and spaced 30’ x 25’ on center. The custom wall-mounted Esplanade luminaires are located on the side of the parking garage at 30 feet. These fixtures—like the Bantam Prismatite luminaires—use 175-watt metal halide lamps.

Working toward an April 1 operating date, Irtenkauf indicated that the project team faced a very tight production and installation schedule. The order for the lighting system was placed 32 weeks before opening day and 28 weeks prior to the date that materials were required on site. The nostalgia lighting that was used for the project was custom manufactured—except the Prismatite fixtures installed in the parking garage.

“When we initiated the project, people said the lighting system could not be designed, manufactured and installed in less than a year,” Irtenkauf confirmed. “We did it in half of that time.”

Fixtures used for site lighting at Comerica Park are illuminated 12 hours a day, seven days a week, with the parking garage fixtures lit around the clock. A manual switch controls the luminaires. The Detroit Public Lighting Department maintains the fixtures, changing the lamps annually.

“The lighting looks great,” Irtenkauf concluded. “Everyone involved—from the owners to the fans—have commented on how bright the campus looks and how safe it feels at night.”


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