Watchfire Signs' canopy reveal to kick off new year

Watchfire Signs completed its Fremont Street Experience digital canopy upgrade. A full unveiling in Las Vegas will be on New Year's Eve.

DANVILLE –The New Year's Eve party in downtown Las Vegas will be just as exciting this year for Watchfire Signs employees and local residents as the ball drop in New York City.

It’s been a monumental year for Watchfire Signs working on the world’s largest video screen — the video canopy over Fremont Street in Las Vegas.

Plans are being finalized for a big reveal during Fremont Street Experience’s New Year’s Eve celebration.

Watchfire Chief Operating Officer Kim Weninger said it was one thing when they were in the middle of the approximately $30 million project, working long hours and shipping out the sections to be installed and tested as they went along.

It was quite another when the last shipment went out at the end of October from Danville to Las Vegas, and installation was completed. They had finished the company’s largest project to date on budget and ahead of schedule.

“Obviously we are really excited about that,” Weninger said.

The last of 59 truckloads of digital signage modules left the manufacturing facility at Watchfire Signs at the end of October. Weninger said the final shipment of modules was a smaller shipment to finish up the project.

“They got it installed very quickly,” she said about the eighth and last section.

By mid-November it was installed, accepted and turned on, she said.

“We’re considered done,” Weninger said. “There’s a lot of pride. I think everyone’s very proud and excited that it’s done.”

The fourth quarter is generally the busiest time for Watchfire Signs. Excitement still is in the air even though employees are back to production on other items.

“Employees worked so much on Fremont this year,” Weninger said. “I think it’s just important that everybody here had a huge role in this, in so many different areas, to go above and beyond to make this happen.”

She said employees’ contributions ranged from production and purchasing stain and other items, making calls at midnight to make sure parts were in on time, to also marketing and making sure the time-lapse cameras were taking photos of the progress, and other little things.

To celebrate the end of the project, Watchfire had a big lunch for employees and gave away three Las Vegas trips that included hotel, airfare and food.

Weninger and a handful of other employees and their guests, significant others, also will be on hand for the New Year’s Eve unveiling.

“We’re not sure what they’re planning,” she said about that night’s activities.

She anticipates having a spot for Watchfire employees to watch and enjoy the festivities.

In addition to the large canopy upgrade, Watchfire also is working on another sign for FSE that is expected to be installed in Las Vegas the first week of December. It’s an 8mm high resolution display.

Weninger said this is an example of a sign project, and others anticipated, with the national exposure of the FSE canopy.

She said the large FSE project has given them a “huge amount of corporate confidence.”

Watchfire can be seen as a smaller-town, Midwest company. Now Watchfire can point to this project, saying they’ve worked on the biggest sign in the world, everything went great and they’re ready to handle about any other project.

She said they continue to bid on several projects.

FSE New Year’s Eve Reveal

Tickets are now on sale for the New Year’s Eve celebration in Las Vegas, “America’s Party Downtown” and updated canopy reveal. An exciting reveal of the new canopy at full visual capability is planned for New Year’s Eve.

New Year’s Eve 2020 will feature live entertainment by 11 bands on four stages including an electronic dance music stage, roaming entertainment and the worldwide debut of FSE’s upgraded LED screen with stunning new visuals.

The cost is $35 plus fees.

FSE’s website says “New Year’s Eve on Fremont Street is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, and this year we’re taking revelry to a whole new level. Party in the glow of our upgraded Viva Vision screen with mind-blowing, never-before-seen graphics, plus live entertainment on four stages, onstage pyrotechnics and easy access to dozens of casinos, restaurants and bars."

According to FSE, “on Nov. 13, final testing of the last section of the screen was approved, so the renovation is complete. The physical renovation is just one part of the story, of course. We’re working non-stop to create new content for the screen, all of which will debut on New Year’s Eve.”

The $32 million project is the largest single video screen.

Fremont Street Experience attracts more than 23 million visitors annually and is adjacent to 10 casinos and more than 60 restaurants. 

According to a Fremont Street Experience representative, every year thousands of guests celebrate at FSE and they expect this year to draw an even larger crowd. She said they won’t have any big entertainers as the amazing canopy will be the main attraction.

“It’s difficult to adequately express how excited we are about the unveiling of our new canopy on New Year’s Eve. This $32 million renovation has been a massive undertaking, and we’re confident visitors will be stunned by the new resolution and vibrancy of Viva Vision, the largest single digital display in the world. Watchfire has been an invaluable partner and I have no doubt that our guests will be blown away by what we’ve accomplished together,” said Patrick Hughes, President and CEO of Fremont Street Experience.

Watchfire was selected from among 15 digital screen manufacturers around the world to design and rebuild the new FSE canopy.

The digital canopy is 1,500 feet long and is suspended 90 feet above a pedestrian mall. The first update in 14 years, the new digital canopy is now seven times brighter and four times sharper than the original, making the light show on the canopy vivid even during daylight hours.

Watchfire started construction of the modules for the project in December 2018. Watchfire designed an all-new product, custom-made 27mm module, for the Fremont Street project that allowed the modules to be cut to fit the existing structure without impacting the information displayed. Perforations in each module also let daylight filter through and air circulate, critical for dispersing heat and illuminating the street below. High contrast materials and an innovative light trapping design combine to make it possible to run content on the canopy during the day – something that was impossible with the old design.

“We had to get very creative to develop a unique product that met all the distinctive needs for Fremont Street, including trimmable modules that fit the canopy’s shape and can handle the extreme desert conditions,” said Steve Harriott, president and CEO of Watchfire Signs. “Interest in this product has been very high and we’re looking forward to using it for other projects.”

The scale of the Fremont Street project was the largest in Watchfire’s history. It included manufacturing and shipping 130,000 sq. ft. of digital signage. The canopy was manufactured in more than 67,000 modules containing 49 million LEDs. A total of 1,054 subframes containing 64 modules each were installed in phases, allowing Fremont Street to remain open during the upgrade.

Since each subframe was manufactured to be installed at a specific spot on the canopy, Watchfire created a special crating and labeling system that arranged frames in a precise order within the shipping crates, making identification on the job site easy.

“The success of the Fremont Street project is proof of what Watchfire stands for. We are a team of innovators, combining new design with in-field excellence in service. This was an all-hands-on-deck project for Watchfire, and nearly every employee was involved in some way,” said Harriott. The Watchfire production facility added optional overtime shifts to accommodate production, enabling experienced Watchfire staff to build the project without the need to hire and train temporary workers. The entire project was completed without impacting the company’s existing sign industry customers.

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