New Kahler Grand Hotel sign gets ready for prime time

Nov. 18—ROCHESTER — When Rochester downtown denizens stop and look up, they will soon see a once blank but now familiar sight: A

brand new Kahler Grand Hotel sign.

The sign will look in every respect like the old one that has graced the skyline since 1971. It will have the same shape and size and 10-foot letters. It will have the same 1970s feel. Visually, it will be different in one key respect.

And therein lay the challenge in creating a replica of the original: They don't make signs like the Kahler anymore.

Other than being brand new, the upgraded sign atop the Kahler will shine using new LED technology instead of neon. It will retain its neon red signature. But RGB technology will enable the hotel to put on "shows" using a rainbow of primary colors, said Gary Colburn, system designer for Principal Industries, the LED manufacturer.

The hotel will now have at its fingertips pre-programmed kaleidoscopic shows to mark the seasons, to honor Breast Cancer Awareness Month and patriotic celebrations, and celebrate Christmas, Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day. Barring any mishaps, the sign will go live in early December.

If you happened to look up Thursday, the sign was switched on and flashing for a 24-hour "burn" that started at noon. It was a test to see if the sign was in working order. Standing atop the Kahler, Colburn, who was flown in from Las Vegas to test the sign, was there to make sure that "everything was wired correctly."

When officials announced in April that the

old Kaher sign was coming down, they left unclear what if anything was to follow.

Restoring the old sign was impractical, because the frame and lettering was so thoroughly rusted. Leaving the space dark and blank was an option, but somewhat dispiriting to consider.

"We felt the sign has been a part of the city skyline since the 1970s," said Kahler Hospitality Board Representative Javon D. Bea. "We wanted to really honor the history. We felt the Rochester skyline wouldn't be the same without the sign."

Bea said early cost estimates ran upwards of a stomach-churning $1 million dollars, but working with La Crosse Sign Group and Building Restoration Corporation, they were able to find "efficiencies" and ingenious ways to do the scaffolding. Costs were cut to $500,000.

But creating a replica created challenges, both logistically and aesthetically.

One challenge was the sign's font. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of sign fonts, but none matched the unique typeface of the Kahler sign.

"The font that was used is not a font that is readily available. So we had to spend a lot of time creating the design of it to try and match the font that was there," said Joel House, president of La Crosse Sign Group.

It took more than 500 hours to build the letters and 70 hours to assemble the LED tubing/power.

Other hurdles included the location of the sign itself. The three-sided sign juts out from the building itself. And the buildings that surround the hotel made it infeasible to use a boom truck to lift the letters and components to the building's top. So instead, workers placed a scaffolding lift on top of the nearby parking lot.

"We built it in pieces," House said. "We were able to bring all the pieces up to the top of the parking lot. And then from there, we took it piece by piece up the side of the building via a lift that was installed by the restoration company."

Technicians also engineered and designed the sign so a scaffolding wouldn't have to be built every decade or so to service the sign. Access holes inside of the letters will enable technicians to get access to the lighting that's outside of the letters, House said.

Josh Vedas, branch manager of Building Restoration Corporation, said the sign's restoration to the downtown skyline will be a welcome sight.

"I think it was the right choice," Vedas said. "We are happy to see when building owners make that commitment."