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curiousKC: Who Lights Up the Kansas City Skyline?

Spoiler alert: It takes a city

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Above image credit: Regarded as a leader in the downtown lighting circles, Union Station's LED lights allow the building to take on any color. (Contributed | Union Station/Kentadh Photography)

If you have ever wondered about the lighting of the Kansas City skyline, you’re not alone.

Intrigued curiousKC reader Paula Schumacher reached out wanting to know more about downtown’s lighting fixtures, which are often coordinated depending on the holiday, a shared cause, or in support of local sports teams.

Coordinating the colors of structures like the Power & Light Building, T-Mobile Center, Union Station, Bartle Hall and plenty of properties in between indeed seems like a pretty big job.

It makes sense that Schumacher wants to know: Who’s in charge here?

Who Flips The Switch?

Imagine pulling back the curtain to reveal the Great Oz … only to find no one standing there.

That’s right, not only is there no one person in charge of the Kansas City skyline’s colors, there is no designated email address, phone number or request forms available for anyone interested in pitching a skyline palette.

Forget it, even a carrier pigeon wouldn’t know which building to land on.

“There’s no office of downtown skyline lights,” said Chris Hernandez, director of communications for the Kansas City Manager’s Office, before patiently describing the ad hoc coordination efforts of individual building managers and business owners with lumens to lend across town.

If there is anyone close to a coordinator-type role in the process, according to Hernandez, it’s Mike Hurd, marketing director for the Downtown Council.

Aside from the obvious (i.e. holidays, championship-bound teams), Hurd passes along specific dates and colors to building and facilities operators around the city, along with a few notes on the occasion in case social media managers want in on the fun.

https://twitter.com/kmbc/status/1224026027359424512

Hernandez said the rather off-the-cuff details — between an unknown number of building and facility operators — with lights capable of coordinating colors are usually passed along in an email thread.

Occasionally, specific buildings will submit a request depending on an event that a business is hosting or something of the like. But there is no obligation for buildings with the ability to color coordinate to do so.

“We do try to work together because it looks so good and we all take so much pride in the city,” Hernandez said.

Growing City of Lights 

While Kansas City lights aren’t up there with the likes of Las Vegas or Times Square, the cityscape has come a long way over the last decade or so.

City beautification by light used to be up to the Downtown Marriott hotel’s well-known south-facing display, along with the always-illuminated Power and Light Building, plus the Bartle Hall pylons over Interstate 670.

But over the last decade or so, color-changing lights have popped up across the downtown area. Hernandez credits cost-effective and customizable LED technology and leaders in the group like Union Station, which has embraced the concept when it’s come to some of the city’s finest moments.

“It allows the station to participate in community moments of celebration and recognition,” said Union Station Chief Marketing Officer Michael Tritt.

Union Station first flipped on its lights in 2012 ahead of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium, according to a 2019 article from In Kansas City on the city’s lights growing in popularity.

Since then, Union Station has celebrated both the Chiefs and Royals, gone pink for cancer awareness and paid tribute to graduating University of Missouri-Kansas City Roos, just to name a few.

“It’s all turned more theatrical,” Union Station President and CEO George Guastello told In Kansas City’s Bob Luder.

“We can take a building and turn it into a story and emotions that make people feel good…” 

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