Best of 2019 NomineeFeatures

LIVIN’ LA ‘VIVA’ LOCA: Inside the Fremont Street Experience $32 million upgrade of ‘Viva Vision’ to an even bigger, brighter, bolder blowout

Add a few more Vs to “Viva Vision,” the world’s largest single LED screen under the canopy at the Fremont Street Experience: vital, vivid and vibrant — and unmistakably Vegas.

The result of an ambitious $32 million upgrade which began in May, the screen is seven times brighter and four times the previous resolution. Oblivious to the sun’s bright rays, it will run 24/7, something that wasn’t possible with the deteriorating lights of the old screen, last updated for $17 million in 2004.

“As you walk down the street, you’ll see that our ultimate goal with this was to create a floor-to-ceiling, fully immersive, interactive experience,” says Patrick Hughes, president and CEO of the Fremont Street Experience, noting that the venue was “kind of disheveled” three years ago when he was named to the position. He credited his predecessor (Jeff Victor) for creating the SlotZilla zipline, which allowed Fremont Street Experience to produce the revenue needed for improvements.

One of Hughes’ first acts was to resurface the street, making it safer and more resilient. Two years ago, he began seeking additional funding for the enhanced exhilaration overhead.

Fremont Street Experience contributed $12 million, the City of Las Vegas put in $10.7 million, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA, which produces Las Vegas Newswire) added $9.5 million. Private businesses provided more money for fresh content.

Watchfire Signs, a Danville-Ill.-based LED manufacturer, completed the work five weeks ahead of schedule. One of the challenges the company faced was that there were no detailed drawings of the 130,000-square-foot canopy that opened in 1995 to indicate the location of the columns that help hold it in place.

“We had to make sure that we didn’t have key structural parts of the sign intersecting with those,” says Steve Harriott, president and CEO of Watchfire. “So we created two solutions: We created a module that could be physically trimmed so the face of the sign could be cut to work around those structural pieces. We (also) created a digital map of (the) entire structure that allowed us to know where those different components were.”

Watchfire also worked to minimize disruptions to a site that attracts more than 20 million visitors a year. It performed most of the work from about 2 a.m. to 10 a.m.

The result is a breathtaking achievement that must be experienced in person to fully appreciate, a sentiment expressed by both Hughes and Harriott. With 16.4 million pixels and 49.3 million LEDs, “Viva Vision” boasts 5,000 nits (a unit of measurement for the total brightness over one square meter of an LED display). The average TV screen, by comparison, is 500 nits.

Slotzilla riders glide by under the Viva Vision canopy in the Fremont Street Experience on November 21, 2019, in Las Vegas. (Joe Buglewicz/Las Vegas News Bureau)

“You can see the colors really pop because the contrast with the face of the sign —  which was white before and now it’s black — helps to give a deeper, richer color,” Harriott says. “It becomes a more immersive experience to visitors. Combined with great content that the Fremont Street Experience is providing and the great sound, all those things come together to make this really impactful.”

Content developed for the new screen’s technological capabilities — set to debut on New Year’s Eve — is the 8-to-10-minute “MIXology,” a concept “inspired by synesthesia, a perceptual phenomenon where music, art and emotion collide to create an immersive, multisensory experience on a grand scale,” according to a press release announcing the event. 

Hughes is more succinct. “It’s a mashup … ‘Viva Vision’ on steroids,” he says, claiming that visitors will be in awe, shaking their heads and asking themselves a simple question: “What the hell was that?”

Adds Harriott: “You’re getting this really deep experiential mood there as the images are played. You are going to feel much more like you’re in the video with that brightness and the clarity of the image and the sound around you.”

Interactive elements will be unveiled in early 2020. Using an app, visitors will be able to vote in real time on what they’ll see next on “Viva Vision.” They will be able to display messages and social media images, and the result will be an experience that will be different each time.

In acquiring the funding and completing the upgrade, “we re-created the original plan that helped develop Fremont Street Experience 25 years ago, thus elevating the experience of our guests (to) strengthen the emotional connection to the destination and ensure future visitation,” Hughes told the LVCVA board of directors during a public presentation on Dec. 10.

Watchfire, Harriott says, was proud to work on “a landmark for tourists on a global scale. It was already such a draw for customers, and I really expect even more people to be drawn to that site as a result of this upgrade.”

The most high-profile event of the year is “America’s Party Downtown,” the official New Year’s Eve party for the City of Las Vegas. It will be presented for the first time this year by iHeartMedia Las Vegas. In addition to looking up at the new screen, revelers can enjoy nonstop entertainment down below on Fremont Street Experience’s four stages, including a dedicated EDM stage, and watch the iconic ball drop in New York’s Times Square. There will be pyrotechnics, dancers, aerialists and roaming theatrical entertainment.

+++

If you go: Tickets for the Dec. 31 event, which begins at 6 p.m., are on sale at VegasExperience.com/nye for $35 (plus tax and fee).


To offer feedback on this story or suggestions for future stories on Las Vegas Newswire, contact Managing Editor Steve Bornfeld at SBornfeld@lvcva.com.

Previous post

Where to find Vegas on TV, Dec. 13-19

Next post

THEY JUMPED (FOR OUR LOVE): Over the years, daredevils have been drawn to Vegas for New Year’s Eve stunts, with mixed results    

By Paul Szydelko / Contributor to Las Vegas Newswire

By Paul Szydelko / Contributor to Las Vegas Newswire