Lighting Provider Hits Home Run for Shea Stadium

By Consulting Specifying Engineer Staff December 22, 2004

From baseball to the Beatles to Pope John Paul II, Shea Stadium has hosted some of the most memorable icons in American pop culture history. Since its opening day, April 17, 1964, the $25 million home of the New York Mets, has hosted more than 73 million sports, music and cultural fans.

Many things have changed over the decades, including the lighting leading patrons to and from their seats. The original incandescent lighting in place for the first pitch was later converted to a high-pressure sodium and metal halide lighting system. But much like the athletes of 1964, Shea Stadium’s lighting system was ready to be retired.

Exit Strategy
During the 2002 season, Shea Stadium officials, the City of New York as the facility landlord, and the New York Mets determined that the concourse lighting system would need to be replaced. They were concerned about the aging system’s illumination levels, maintenance requirements and whether the system would restrike quickly in the event of a power outage. They determined that a replacement system would have to fit a number of criteria, most importantly the ability to run on the existing branch circuit system.

Shea Stadium’s existing concourse lighting design consisted of a combination of high- pressure sodium and metal halide system along all concourses leading to the seating area and above public access ramps.

“While the original high pressure sodium/metal halide system was effective when it replaced the originally installed incandescent luminaries from 1964, it wasn’t performing to the standards we needed to meet today,” said Jose Concepcion, specification and sales manager for Stan Deutsch Associates, a lighting distributor representative located in Long Island City, New York. “The HID lamps were not providing sufficient illumination levels and required continuous maintenance.”

Working with Stan Deutsch Associates, Michael Friedman, senior electrical engineer at STV Incorporated, New York, an engineering-architectural consulting firm, was also involved in the search for a replacement lighting system. “We needed to find a new lighting source that would provide adequate, uninterrupted lighting that would allow patrons to safely enter and exit the seating area.”

Enter Sportlite
With an introduction from Stan Deutsch Associates, local representatives for Sportlite, Inc., Phoenix, Arizona, stepped to the plate to present their compact fluorescent lighting system to Shea Stadium officials. Northeast & Canada Region Sales Manager, Linda Lester, showcased Sportlite’s series of Designer DX Series low-bay fixtures with 26- or 42-watt compact fluorescent lamps and emergency ballast backup, and its LX Series high-bay fixtures with 42-watt compact fluorescent lamps.

With the goal of retrofitting but not rewiring due to budgetary constraints, Shea Stadium’s new lighting system had to provide the same or better illumination without any additional wires and without exceeding the current wattage. Sportlite demonstrated that its compact fluorescent lighting system could run through Shea Stadium’s existing branch circuit system, while providing higher illumination levels at the same or lower wattages.

No More Strike Outs
In the event of a power outage, Sportlite compact fluorescent lighting features instant on/off capabilities, eliminating concerns associated with restrike, the time it takes for an HID system to return from “off” to its full light level.

“When you’re dealing with a crowd of as many as 55,000 people, it is crucial that the emergency lighting immediately turn on,” said Concepcion. “A restrike time of as long as 15 minutes is not acceptable.”

Although the restrike time of metal halide products on the market today is now closer to five minutes, they still do not provide the immediate light levels of CFLs.

A Win-Win Situation
Shea Stadium selected Sportlite compact fluorescent lighting for the retrofit project due to its ability to run on the existing branch circuit system and its instant restrike capabilities. In addition, the system also provided better light levels and reduced maintenance.

HID systems, such as high-pressure sodium or metal halide, inherently lose 10 percent of their light output yearly through aging. So, even though HID systems initially produce more lumens, the lumen maintenance, color uniformity and illumination periods diminish rapidly over time.

In addition, to meeting the restrike and light output criteria, the four- and six-lamp configured Sportlite fixtures help reduce maintenance costs. Even if one lamp goes out, the remaining lamps in the fixture remain on; therefore, it doesn’t require immediate attention from maintenance crews since the illumination levels are still sufficient.

No Time for Errors
The installation phase presented some unique challenges for Stan Deutsch, STV and Shea Stadium’s electrical contractor, E.J. Electric, one of the most reputable and oldest New York City electrical contractors, founded in 1899, since the new lighting system had to be installed in a very tight timeframe during baseball’s off-season from January to March.

According to Friedman, this was a sizeable job that had to be completed during winter’s harshest months. “Shea Stadium is a very cold and windy place in the winter,” Friedman explained. “The design, delivery, and implementation had to be finished by March 2003 for testing prior to Opening Day.”

Throughout the month of March 2003, installation crews conducted a series of tests on the new lighting system to ensure there were no errors. The tests were successful, and the lighting system was up and running when Shea Stadium opened its 2003 season.

“There wasn’t any time for hiccups in the installation phase, and Sportlite really delivered for us,” said Concepcion. “They had the products to the job site within one month, which allowed us to begin the installation immediately.”

Safe at Home
The biggest test of Shea Stadium’s new lighting system came during the Blackout of 2003, less than six months after it was installed. At 4:15 p.m. on August 14, 2003, baseball fans were lining up outside the stadium for a Mets game when New York City and other cities along the east coast and upper Midwest suddenly lost power. Not yet aware of the magnitude of the blackout, the stadium opened its gates as scheduled, allowing fans to filter into their seats.

“When the lights went out, the stadium’s emergency generator kicked on and the new lighting system immediately turned on,” said Friedman. “Even though the game had to be cancelled, the compact fluorescent lighting instantly provided adequate, safe light levels so fans could easily enter and exit the seating area.”

The rest of New York City may have been in the dark, but Shea Stadium’s lighting was a shining success.