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TAM Electric Lights Memphis Skyline with AutoZone Park Project
TAM teams with manufacturers to overcome special lighting challenges

By Rosalie E. Leposky  

Before the last week of October 1999 most people in Memphis, Tenn., were oblivious to the state-of-the-art baseball facility going up downtown. The new home of St. Louis Cardinals' AAA-affiliate, the Memphis Redbirds, was just another downtown project that would cause traffic jams, they thought. That would all change with a "parade of lights" down Third Street.

"For months the construction went on and no one paid a lot of attention." said Jeffery H. Richerson, secretary-treasurer of Memphis-based TAM Electric Co. "It was just like any of our other construction sites. In mid-October we assembled light fixtures at our Third Street assembly building about five blocks from AutoZone Park. Everything began to change by mid-afternoon of the day we loaded and transported the first two lighting cages. Each is 6 feet 8 inches tall, 27.5 inches wide, and 25 feet long, and has three rows of lights. We moved them back-to-back on a standard 40-foot flatbed trailer.

"Pedestrian and auto traffic stopped dead in their tracks as our trailer drove down Third Street, crossing historic Beale Street. Suddenly, everyone knew we were building a real baseball park.

"Our move generated excitement. You can play baseball during the day, but the game looks different at night. You know something special is happening."

About 70 TAM Electric Co., employees spent 49,000 man-hours installing 900,000 feet of wire, 780,000 feet of conduit, and 1,800 feet of cable tray on this unique project.

Challenges and triumphs

AutoZone Park's tight construction timetable of 11 months posed numerous challenges for TAM Electric, which completed $6 million worth of electrical work. The company tackled sports lighting, main scoreboard wiring, out-of-town scoreboard wiring, power wiring, service distribution, HVAC wiring, and unique sewer and stormwater lift stations. The lift stations-never before done by TAM Electric-were challenging because they rested below street level.

To meet the deadline-dictated by an April 1, 2000 exhibition game between the Major League Baseball (MLB) St. Louis Cardinals and the team's AAA minor-league affiliate, the Memphis Redbirds-TAM worked closely with several architects, engineers, distributors, and manufacturers to meet the tightened timetable. Most notably, TAM worked with design teams from Memphis-based Thomas & Betts Corp., an electrical connector and component manufacturer. On a different part of the AutoZone Park project, TAM teamed with Square D, another manufacturer of electrical-related products.

Sports lighting expertise

"Even though we'd never installed sports lighting before, Thomas & Betts made the process simple," Richerson said. "Because everything arrived at the construction site pre-assembled, the lighting standards came together very easily."

For AutoZone Park, Thomas & Betts developed new sport flood reflectors that can be used in other sports facilities. "We specified the use of Type 2 floodlights with a very narrow beam spread," said R. Keith Booker, lighting applications manager at Thomas & Betts. "Beam spread is determined by the mounting height, the area to be illuminated, and the required light level. A tighter beam spread allows light to be focused on a specific spot on the playing field. Lighting requirements determine the beam spread and the number of lights required to illuminate an area."

Each of the freestanding light towers has a climbing apparatus used to change lamps and maintain the towers.

"When the assembled fixtures were on the ground and ready to hoist into place, we pre-aimed each lamp and marked for future reference the points where each socket housing and yoke came together," Booker said. "To replace a burned-out lamp, two bolts are loosened, and the reflectors are pushed back towards the tower or the structure where the maintenance person is standing. A new lamp is installed, and the reflector is tilted back down to the reference point and locked into position. Each lamp is about the size of a football and weighs less than a pound."

In addition to the sports lighting, Thomas & Betts supplied fittings, boxes, conduit hangers, cable tray, and most other electrical materials for the stadium project. TAM's Richerson said. "Those T&B items are easier to work with than the products that many of their competitors supply, and it was great to work so closely with another Memphis company."

Cooperation and coordination

From the start, AutoZone Park was a cooperative effort, not only between TAM and T&B, but also between TAM and all the other companies involved. That coordination and cooperation was critical to meeting the tight deadline. Robert B. Norcross, principal AutoZone Park architect for Looney Ricks Kiss Architects, said, "We work as a team, as if we were all under one roof."

In other published reports, Arthur L. Yeates, architect and vice president of construction for the Memphis Redbirds, said: "TAM Electric is an excellent subcontractor. Over the years, I've worked with TAM on many projects. They were an early participant in the AutoZone project, and the one contractor I never had to yell at to get caught up." Yeates was pleased also with the results, as he commented: "With no moon, in the middle of the night, you'll be able to thread a needle in center field."

By the end of 1999, four freestanding 130-foot lighting poles stood in the outfield. Now three decorative steel-truss light towers with lighting cages/arrays are installed above the grandstands, and a fourth is atop the adjacent eight-story Toyota Center.

Lighting tests lit up the Memphis sky several weeks before the first pitch in AutoZone Park. The people of Memphis surely could no longer be oblivious to the bright lights. Memphis residents probably remained, however, oblivious to the thousands of man-hours and the extent of cooperation that went into those lighting structures.

Lights, poles, and booms

Each steel-pole assembly supports three lighting cages, also called service baskets. Each cage holds up to 24 individual floodlights, for a total of 56 to 72 floodlights per pole, with 1,500 watts (162,000 lumens) of output. The cages, designed by Thomas & Betts Corporation, use 556 1,500-watt, single-end sport metal-halide lamps, manufactured by Venture Lighting International, Inc., of Solon, Ohio.

Because Memphis rests on top of the New Madrid fault, which once shifted the course of the Mississippi River, the immense light towers in AutoZone Park had to be designed to sway during earth shifts and in windy conditions. Three 43-foot sections of steel were jacked together to form the 130-foot poles, which weigh about 17.5 tons apiece, but will flex and sway in accordance with the local standards. Feeder cables run up the poles. Earthquake-ready and jacketed together, the former sections now formed complete pole assemblages. The next step was erecting them.

"The stadium was about 50 percent done when we used a crane with a 225-foot boom to raise the pole assemblage," said Richerson. While the lighting portion was new to TAM, airlift work was not. Said Richerson, "We've done plenty of airlift work on other projects, like hospitals, so we were pretty well prepared to tackle the outfield lights at AutoZone Park."

In the neighborhood

The new Memphis sports facility is part of a $2.3 billion downtown redevelopment effort. Four historic buildings on the National Register of Historic Places are part of, or next to, the new ballpark. The eight-story Toyota Center, which will house the offices of the Memphis Redbirds, is part of the park. "The Toyota Center is about 30 feet from the AutoZone grandstand's back wall," said architect Norcross. "For architectural purposes, the light tower we installed on the top of the Toyota Center has an ornamental type of cage. We wanted to enhance the view and not obstruct the view of people in the top floor of Toyota Center's offices."

Once the lighting towers were in place on the Toyota Center's roof, linking the Toyota Center with the new ballpark was essential. TAM Electric installed new cabling between the Toyota Center and AutoZone Park under the connecting walkways.

"The active utilities were relocated. We combined the HVAC and electrical services for both buildings and housed them in the basement of the Toyota Center for a more cost-effective design solution, to conserve space, and to conceal the mechanical and electrical equipment from view in an open downtown environment," Norcross added.

TAM also wired an adjacent parking garage, which serves both AutoZone Park and the Toyota Center. Beside the Toyota building and the ballpark, buildings also part of Memphis' downtown redevelopment include:

-- the five-story S.C. Toof Building (built in 1912)

-- the Leslie M. Stratton YMCA building, which is also known as the Fogelman Downtown YMCA building (1909)

-- a new retail and entertainment complex adjacent to the 468-room Peabody Hotel (1925), and

-- the five-story Scimitar Building, which is also known as the Memphis Light, Gas and Water building (1902).

The retail and entertainment complex next to the Peabody is already under construction and is scheduled to open in the fall. The historic Toof and Scimitar buildings are slated for redevelopment in conjunction with the ballpark, as are the unused upper floors of the YMCA building, which will be converted into residential space.

The revitalization effort also includes a one-acre urban park--still without an official name--that functions as an entryway plaza for AutoZone Park. Located just off the corner of Union Avenue and Third Street, the entryway plaza was designed in collaboration with Looney Ricks Kiss Architects, Inc., and artist Don Merkt of Portland, Ore., to accommodate pre-game entertainment, including mimes, jugglers, and post-game concerts. On days when no games are scheduled, it is intended to attract children and lunchtime diners. The entryway plaza also serves as an outdoor gallery of baseball art.

To allow park managers to control nighttime lighting, TAM Electric installed a Square D Power Link NQOD series panel board with a day-by-day timer and a series of electrical cables for the plaza's lighting and sound vaults. Square D Company is a division of Schneider Electric in Palatine, Ill.

Springboard to future work

By cooperating with several teams of people on the ballpark project, TAM Electric was able to overcome challenges, learn some unique approaches, solidify relationships in its trading area, and lay the foundation of future work. TAM sought help where needed and relied on the expertise of its crews and the teams from various other companies involved in this modern baseball facility, which anchors the downtown revitalization. TAM, though not yet scheduled to work on the other buildings inside the revitalization zone, will be the front-runner on bids because of its involvement with AutoZone Park.

As a symbol of pride in its triumphant participation in the challenging project, TAM Electric expects to share a fascia sign inside the new stadium. Perhaps the thousands of local baseball fans will someday be as familiar and comfortable with the name TAM Electric Co., as are the general contractors, developers, and architects of Memphis.

LEPOSKY is a freelance writer based in Miami. She can be reached at

(c) Electrical Contractor Magazine July 2000

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