Focus on Rigging; Little Caesars Arena's SkyDeck

by Marta Peliwo
in Installations
The view looking down with Elation LED strips on. Photo by Robin Sheridan
The view looking down with Elation LED strips on. Photo by Robin Sheridan

InterAmerica Stage Provides its Largest SkyDeck for New Arena in Detroit

Detroit is known for many things. It’s the Motor City, the Arsenal of Democracy, and the birthplace of Motown. It’s home to four major sports franchises: the Tigers, the Lions, the Pistons and the Red Wings. It’s the fourth largest city in the Midwest, and now, it’s home to the largest SkyDeck tension wire grid in the world.

Mark T. Black, owner and CEO of InterAmerica Stage, Inc., has seen hundreds of SkyDeck installs and has always believed that SkyDeck would be perfect for use in large arenas. His vision came to fruition with the renovation of the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, CA.

MSG opened the renovated Forum Presented by Chase in early 2014. The Forum boasts a 34,000-square foot SkyDeck that was, at that time, the largest SkyDeck tension wire grid in the world.

Riggers from famed Joe Louis Arena working on SkyDeck for the first time

‡‡         Topping its Own Record

InterAmerica has beaten its own record with Little Caesars Arena’s new 43,000-square-foot grid. The new grid required 81 miles of aircraft cable to create the walking/working surface. Made up of 372 removable panels, the grid serves as both a floor and ceiling, depending on your point of view as you are looking at it.

Riggers from the historic but soon-to-be-demolished Joe Louis Arena (the Red Wings played their last game there in April 2017) were invited to the Little Caesars Arena in mid-August to get a feel for working on the SkyDeck.

“The Joe Louis Arena riggers liked the flexibility and speed at which they’ll be able to rig a show,” said Mike Shefka of Barton Malow Hunt White. Shefka served as senior project manager for the Little Caesars Arena build. “They’re used to maneuvering over each other on the rigging beams at the Joe Louis Arena. Now they can go straight from point A to point B without traversing through the beams.” In other words, the SkyDeck tension wire grid serves as a floor for the overhead riggers to easily and safely walk to multiple points.

‡‡         A Floor and a Ceiling

Shefka says that Olympia Entertainment and the former Joe Louis Arena riggers are excited about the new tension wire grid. “But the fans,” he said, “are going to see it in a different and unique way. Over 1,400 Elation LED lights will shine across the SkyDeck to create a multi-colored light show that enhances the total fan experience.” The fans’ point of view, of course, will be from their seats in the arena bowl below the grid. They will experience the SkyDeck as a ceiling.

Arena ownership didn’t want the overhead equipment used for projections and lighting on the ice to be seen by patrons. Keith Irtenkauf and Adam Winter of Illuminating Concepts agreed that SkyDeck offered the best solution and flexibility for Little Caesars Arena as a multi-use venue with high-level kinetic activity. Irtenkauf said, “The question was: how do we use this surface as part of the show?”

“We wanted to eliminate the feeling of a black hole above the audience and move towards a more architectural and intimate feel,” said Winter. Working with a long list of competing variables while staying within the established budgetary parameters required that Illuminating Concepts, InterAmerica Stage, Elation Professional, and Motor City Electric actively collaborate to that end.

‡‡         Custom Fixtures

Irtenkauf and Winter started with Elation’s SixBar as a model, and created a new instrument specifically for Little Caesars Arena’s project. Adaptations were made with an eye towards operational efficiency and sustainability over the long run. They reduced the LEDs to RGBW, lowered the wattage, and moved the connectors from the back of the instruments to the side to maintain the clean look that SkyDeck is known for. Custom mounting brackets were added to integrate the new Quad Bar 1000s and Quad Bar 500s to the SkyDeck panels. “The instruments were engineered as they were built,” said Irtenkauf. “This could not have happened without everyone’s input.”

In all, 1,488 Quad Bars were installed beneath each of the 372 SkyDeck WTG panels. That’s four instruments per panel. “We treated the wire mesh of SkyDeck like a scrim” said Winter. “We lit it from below so you can’t really see what’s above it.” Each panel has four quadrants that can be lit separately and each Quad Bar has a custom-made kicker shield attached at just the right angle so the lights won’t shine into the audience’s eyes. Washing SkyDeck’s galvanized aircraft cables with light quite literally puts the lid on a totally immersive fan experience.

The first ticketed event at Little Caesars Arena took place on Sept. 12, the first of a series of six sold-out shows featuring Detroit’s own Kid Rock (See story, this issue, page 60.) Kid Rock LD Richard “Nook” Schoenfeld had this to say:

“I lit the heck out of your grid and it looked amazing. This unprecedented concept is huge,” Schoenfeld said. “Besides cutting the rigging time in half, SkyDeck made for a beautiful canvas for me to paint my art.”

For Kid Rock’s show Nook painted the underside of the SkyDeck to look like the American flag at times, and at others, he illuminated it with many other patterns and chases to match the music.

For more information, go to www.skydeckgrid.com.

 All photos by Todd Kaplan

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