New York’s Glittering Times Square, Crossroads of the World, To Get Even Brighter
Digital Displays on Buildings Play Role in Tourist Mecca’s Efforts To Recover From Pandemic
By: Andria Cheng
TSX Broadway’s main LED display, depicted in a rendering, has what’s billed as Times Square’s first permanent indoor-outdoor stage integrated within. (L&L Holding)
The global entertainment and tourist hub of Times Square, known for its dazzling array of head-turning glitzy signs, is about to shine even brighter.
An 18,000-square-foot LED billboard, one of the largest in the “Crossroads of the World” and part of a $2.5 billion-plus, 46-story mixed-use TSX Broadway development, has been installed and is undergoing testing with the goal of having it come online by the time revelers gather Saturday for the New Year’s Eve ball drop, the tower’s developer, L&L Holding, told CoStar News.
The main display is part of a total of 51,000 square feet of building signs that L&L has said will be featured at TSX Broadway, a 550,000-square-foot project that broke ground in 2019. A spokesperson for L&L, in partnership with Fortress Investment Group, told CoStar the building, located at 1568 Broadway at the corner of 47th Street, will have “the largest total signage package on one single building in Times Square” by the time other signs in the crown and other areas of the tower are completed and lit next year.
Since one of the first glowing signs was turned on more than a century ago in a neon advertisement for Trimble Whiskey, Times Square has been on the forefront of electric-powered promotions on the sides of buildings, lighting up like beacons in the night, attracting not only hordes of foot traffic over the decades but much-needed revenue for landlords.
Today, the signs play an important role in the most important neighborhood to New York’s economy, which has been under pressure as it attempts to recover from the pandemic. In the process, the added signs are also showing the importance of high-tech advertising for building owners.
On a recent afternoon, the main LED sign at TSX Broadway, overlooking Duffy Square and the distinctive TKTS kiosk’s red steps where Broadway show tickets are sold, could be seen lit red, blue or green in testing mode. The area is touted as the most heavily trafficked place in the Western Hemisphere.
Robert Israel, executive vice president of L&L, said the firm is doing everything it can to make sure the sign comes on by New Year’s Eve. L&L is also the developer behind the recently completed 425 Park Ave., the first new full-block office tower in decades along the iconic corporate corridor across town.
TSX Broadway’s main LED display, set to be one of Times Square’s largest, was tested on a recent afternoon in preparation for being fully functional on New Year’s Eve. (Andria Cheng/CoStar)
While signs are covered by the zoning requirements for buildings in Times Square, TSX Broadway’s new installation signals a transformation of the physical advertising medium in the tourist mecca. The new sign is not only much larger than the one featured on the previous building at the site, it also comes with higher definition and other technological advances that offer more clarity and the ability to display 3D content, Israel told CoStar News.
“Twenty years ago, there was a lot more static signage, [and] LED was the new thing,” Israel said. “Now you look around Times Square with all of our adjacent properties, it’s all LED signage. ... Most of our neighbors are ... installing the LED component in order to help the revenue of the property. … We maximized the amount of signage that we were able to put on the building here just because of that ability to drive the revenue.”
Over 20 years ago, Israel said he helped install one of Times Square’s first LED signs at 3 Times Square, also known as the Thomson Reuters Building, co-developed by the media giant with Rudin Management.
“That sign with Rudin and Reuters versus … where we are today is night and day,” he said.
Not to be outdone, 3 Times Square has upped its sign game.
Branded Cities, a company specializing in outdoor advertising, introduced this month a new $9 million digital display at 3 Times Square where six screens have been consolidated into a large two-screen design.
The full-motion display totaling over 10,500 square feet marks “a significant 40% increase in size over its predecessor” that will give brands “a state-of-the-art canvas for their campaigns,” Branded Cities said in a statement.
Rudin last year unveiled a multimillion-dollar renovation for the 30-story office skyscraper, transforming the building into what it called a “21st century workplace destination.”
Branded Cities debuted 3 Times Square’s new digital sign this month. (Branded Cities)
Foot Traffic Lags
The new LED displays in Times Square come as the neighborhood seeks to rebound from the pandemic. The district, which had record low foot traffic at the start of the pandemic in 2020, has seen its average daily visitor count recover to nearly 275,000 in November, up 18% from the same time last year and more than double from 2020, but it's still about 19% shy of the pre-pandemic level in 2019, according to the Times Square Alliance, a business improvement group.
In a typical year, nearly 360,000 pedestrians enter the heart of Times Square each day, with foot traffic rising to as high as 450,000 on the busiest days, according to the alliance. In contrast, foot traffic declined to an average of 125,000 in 2020.
While representing only 0.1% of New York’s total area, Times Square typically represents 15% of the city’s economic output, the business group has told CoStar News. That’s a higher percentage than any other neighborhood in the city.
The New Year’s Eve ball drop at 1 Times Square is watched worldwide. To that point, Jamestown, the real estate investment and management firm known for redeveloping New York’s Chelsea Market and Atlanta’s Ponce City Market, is reintroducing VNYE this year that will allow anyone to explore the virtual world of Times Square, play games and livestream the New Year’s Eve celebration. The 1 Times Square property itself is going through a $500 million redevelopment where digital signs play a key role.
Why focus on billboards? Visitors devote about eight minutes, or 10% of the median time of 81 minutes spent in Times Square, looking at those signs, according to a study done by the Times Square Alliance and Times Square Advertising Coalition.
TSX Entertainment, an entertainment and hospitality company co-founded by streaming company Spotify’s former global head of music Nick Holmstén, in April said it has leased 74,500 square feet of space to host live and virtual events as well as other hospitality offerings. The company will control the content for the signs at the tower, according to Israel.
TSX Entertainment is also set to host concerts at what’s billed as Times Square’s first permanent indoor-outdoor stage in the building that’s integrated into the main billboard sign.
“The stage [concept] itself was more of a game-changer for us when we first got involved in this development” in 2017, Israel said, adding it’ll be “one of the major attractions that wow.” Artists can perform for live audiences gathered in Times Square while also being recorded and broadcast around the world.
TSX Broadway is set to open next year. Beyond the entertainment offerings, the building is expected to debut hotel giant Hilton’s first Tempo concept that will feature 661 rooms. As part of the development, L&L this year lifted the historic landmarked Palace Theater and its 14 million-pound theater box 30 feet above Times Square.
We “unlocked the retail [space] on the ground floor” for new tenants, Israel said, adding the new entrance for the Palace Theater will be on 47th and no longer Seventh Avenue.