LA's Alive!

Downtown Los Angeles is coming to life! Five years ago, the area that is now LA Live was a parking lot for visitors to the Los Angeles Convention Center or the Staples Center, home of the Lakers, Clippers, Kings and Sparks. Today, the area is a 27-acre entertainment complex with 5.6 million square feet of restaurants, bars, movie theaters, the Grammy Museum and the Nokia Theatre. A constantly changing series of images appears on a giant light-emitting diode (LED) wall at the rear of the outdoor Nokia Plaza—which is often the site of free concerts—and on video screens on six giant towers. And the towers are topped by SkyTracker lights. The place hops!

LA Live cost approximately $2.5 billion and was developed by Anschutz Entertainment Group, Wachovia Corp., and the investment firm MacFarlane Partners, with contributions from the taxpayers of Los Angeles. The general contractor for the project was Clark Construction LLC of Bethesda, Md., and the electrical contractors on the project included Morrow-Meadows, Direct AV, SASCO and Dynalectric Los Angeles.

Morrow-Meadows Corp., headquartered in City of Industry, Calif., worked under Clark Construction on a $30 million design/build contract as one of the electrical contractors on LA Live.

“It wasn’t one big project, it was 12 separate, distinct jobs, awarded as separate contracts yet all on the same campus,” said Dan Gleason, project executive, Morrow-Meadows.

While Morrow-Meadows worked on the site for three years and completed the work in 2009 using a crew that peaked at 80 electricians, the first project—construction of the Nokia Theatre—had to be completed in one year due to the scheduling of the opening night concert, featuring the Eagles and the Dixie Chicks on Oct. 18, 2007.

However, it wasn’t just the Nokia Theatre, a 7,100-seat performance venue with its own large underground utility power station, that had to be completed in the shorter time frame.

“Several other projects quickly rolled out in succession as plans were developed. These projects were needed to support the opening of Nokia Theatre,” Gleason said. “At a certain point, most of the projects were under concurrent construction, meaning we had to provide management, supervision and field crews for each of them at the same time.”

Morrow-Meadows worked with owner AEG, fleshing out the design details for electrical, lighting, power, emergency lighting and fire/life safety systems from a basic schematic design provided by the engineer, the Syska-Hennessy Group. Morrow-Meadows provided load calculations for the electrical systems to ensure that Title 24 requirement compliance was maintained. Contractors also had to meet requirements of the National Electrical Code and local codes throughout the project.

“AEG was very involved in determining how they wanted their buildings to function electrically. The key was to build in the flexibility [and] the right amount of power and communications raceways at the right locations to allow production companies to make good use of the facilities,” Gleason said.

Central to the project was construction of two subterranean parking structures (one of which was built with the general contractor PCL Constructors Inc.) that were the base foundation of all LA Live buildings and the Nokia Plaza except for the Nokia Theatre. The structures not only provided space for parking but also housed electrical power and communications infrastructure for most of the complex. Morrow-Meadows’ work included construction of five underground transformer stations for the Department of Water and Power to feed the project and all electrical power to the main service locations and throughout the project.

“The parking garages were subterranean, so they were a bit tricky,” said Dain Parry, general superintendent for Morrow-Meadows. “They were all done using poured-in-place decks, so all feeds for fire alarm, lighting controls and communications were run in the pours of the deck itself and fixtures were mounted down below.”

For the Nokia Theatre, under the guidance of EPIC Production Technologies of Oxnard, Calif., Morrow-Meadows installed the rigging systems for the theatrical stage-lighting fixtures on the catwalks and had to rearrange and adjust theatrical lighting.

“All of the control wire and switching for the control booth was installed in the last few days before opening night and had to be completely functional before the concert,” Parry said. “Under the time constraints, it was a pretty ambitious project.”

Wiring ‘Times Square West’

Nokia Plaza, sometimes referred to as “Times Square West,” is a nearly 1-acre open space that lies between the LA Live’s entertainment buildings and the Nokia Theatre. It includes giant media screens and six huge towers that are wired for light and sound. Morrow-Meadows Corp. worked with the tower fabricators and local inspectors to devise a way to bring in the power system from the parking structure below through hollow structural-steel legs of the towers—one for power and the others for communications—up to control panels two-thirds of the way up the towers. The company then distributed the power and communications through the towers for lighting, including for SkyTracker lights on top of the towers.

“When we first looked at it, we thought, ‘How are we going to do this?’ But we got the team together. It was such a team effort between the owner, general contractor and ourselves. Without that, it would never have gotten done,” said Terry Bailey, project manager, Morrow-Meadows.

The plaza is wired from below with power and communication infrastructure to support live events, shows and concerts.

Other L.A.-area contractors, Exsell Sales Associates of Glendale and Direct AV of Hawthorne, worked as subcontractors to IPR Services of Hacienda Heights on the towers in Nokia Plaza and other LA Live projects. IPR provided the campus-wide broadcast infrastructure for the AEG-Digital Media HD Studios and AEG’s broadcast and engineering department that links the entire complex together.

For Nokia Plaza, Exsell helped IPR engineer the media panels and the terminations needed for the HD camera systems as well as engineering and planning for the broadcast audio and video needs, including the fiber optic cabling used for running the HD cameras.

“It was challenging because we actually needed to design a way to share space in the tiny enclosures that house the cables needed for telephone, data, audio, video support, along with the fiber optic cables. How they all interact in the back of that panel is really important so that nothing is broken when it is installed,” said Paul Raine, vice president, Exsell. “It’s such a new technology that we had to come up with a way to terminate it so that it would be repeatable and safe in the long run, which had to do with designing how everything was terminated, put into the package, how the actual cabinet was designed, and the use of the products that were assembled with the manufacturer of the cable.”

Since fiber optic terminations for video are not the same as metallic connections for audio and data, especially in the area of cleanliness of the fiber optic connectors, Exsell introduced cleaning materials and techniques to ensure quality transmission throughout the network.

Direct AV helped install the screens and speakers on the towers, interfaced equipment to the lighting boards, and did the terminations. The project was made easier by the use of custom-made speed bundles, a method originally conceived by Bob Patrick, president of IPR, for use in the construction of the Staples Center. The bundles were secured with a planary wrap to prevent bumps and facilitate a straight and easy-to-handle piece. Direct AV’s crew, positioned on scissor lifts, tugged the bundles along the tray using pulleys and rollers so as to not exceed the pulling tension.

“Our guys had to use their ingenuity in deciding where to place the rollers,” said Larry Frontino, president of Direct AV. —S.C.

But that wasn’t the only challenge. The company discovered late in the schedule that the media wall at the east end of the Nokia Theatre lobby was to be illuminated by LEDs that would change color and display different images.

“We installed provisions for power and worked with the vendor’s contractor to wire the controls to make it work. It was a big feat. This project stands out as being the most unique of my 24-year career,” said Terry Bailey, project manager, Morrow-Meadows.

Other separate contracts awarded to Morrow-Meadows included the core and shell of buildings housing entertainment venues; the electrical and communication infrastructure to support a future hotel conference center, ballrooms and multiplex cinemas; Club Nokia; AEG’s executive offices and broadcast studios; a three-city-block subterranean truck tunnel, which is the main truck-delivery route for all LA Live facilities; and a subterranean tunnel between the Staples Center and the Nokia Theatre used for transporting prepared foods to theater concessions.

“Morrow-Meadows’ ability to do design work, to put all of it together with all the change orders, resulted in a sophisticated electrical job,” said Larry Johnson, senior superintendent, Clark Construction Group. “I’ve worked with them a long time, and when I have Morrow-Meadows on a job, they make it work.”

While Morrow-Meadows did the core and shell of the LA Live buildings, SASCO, Fullerton, Calif., completed a $9.5 million contract under general contractor Taslimi Construction on the build-out of ESPN’s permanent West Coast broadcast studio, a 12,300-square-foot area with three production control rooms, two master control rooms, a newsroom screening area, eight editing suites, a music room, a radio control room and studio, a voiceover room, and two other studios. General foreman Chris Breitschwerdt, project manager Mike Redivo and project engineer Jeff Vanhorn oversaw the build-out of a studio that is the first in the world capable of 1,080p production, the next generation of 1,080p high-definition production, the best HD resolution available.

“There’s an extensive ground grid on every inch of the floor in the studio,” said Jim Grana, superintendent, SASCO. “The challenge was the amount of electricity required—5,000-amp paralleling switchgear, three 1,500-kilowatt standby generators, ATS, 18 power distribution units, two 1,600-amp uninterruptible power supplies, 2,500-amp paralleling bus duct and roof mechanical.”

Dynalectric Los Angeles, an EMCOR company, teamed up with Electronic Theatre Controls Inc. (ETC), on the design/build project of the theatrical studio lighting of ESPN’s studios. Working with an average crew of four that peaked at seven, in only a 120-day timeline, Dynalectric Los Angeles installed ETC, SR-48 dimming racks, control modules, theater lighting connector strips, raceway and wiring for ESPN’s current studios and integrated the lighting controls to network switches located in each dimming room.

“The most challenging part of the project was both the number of circuits required for each studio and the logistics involved with working on the suspended lighting pipe grid at or above 20 [feet] from the studio floor. There were 378 individual circuits and dedicated neutrals in studio A and 474 individual circuits and dedicated neutrals in studio B,” said Tony Campbell, senior vice president, operations, Dynalectric.
“We broke the two studios into manageable zones, obtained accurate wire lengths, and with help from Sourcery LLC wire products, we installed prefabricated wiring for the SR-48 dimmer banks to the individual theater lighting connector strips via raceway mounted on the suspended lighting pipe grid. The approximate length of prefabricated wire was 147,500 feet. The prefabricated wiring minimized wire-pulling waste, and conserved man-hours for setting up and tearing down wiring,” Campbell said.

Working under general contractor PCL, SASCO completed the Regal Cinemas, also serving as the electrical engineer on that project, and the 34,958-square-foot, four-floor build-out of the Grammy Museum, and other features of LA Live. Installation of the interactive music museum exhibits required coordination between SASCO’s electrical and systems teams and the audiovisual design team from D&P Inc. of Lorton, Va.

“There is a significant web of A/V infrastructure and electrical distribution throughout the museum that was challenging to install due to the confined areas of each floor to the situation of having to work amongst many other specialty trades,” said Christian Bakken, project manager, SASCO, who worked with general foreman Sheldon Hotarek.

And that’s not all of LA Live! The last piece of the project, the 54-story Ritz-Carlton/Marriott combination hotel and condominium complex opened in spring 2010. Check out the details of that project in October’s Security + Life Safety Systems hospitality issue.

CASEY, author of “Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors” and “Women Invent! Two Centuries of Discoveries that have Changed Our World,” can be reached at and

About the Author

Susan Casey

Freelance Writer
Susan Casey, author of "Women Heroes of the American Revolution," "Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors," and "Women Invent! Two Centuries of Discoveries that have Changed Our World," can be reached at or www.susancaseybooks...

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