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Reunion Tower deck reopens in high-tech style

Reunion by the numbers

• It takes the new elevators 68 seconds to get from lobby to top floor.

• The restaurant Five Sixty is on the tower’s top-most level, at 560 feet above the ground. The Cloud Nine Café and private event space is just underneath it at 510 feet. The GeO-Deck is just under that at 470 feet.

• There are five interactive “experiences” via the Halo touch screens.

• Half of each Halo area on the newly opened GeO-Deck has 15 fully interactive screens and measures approximately 52 feet wide.

• The renovation team was made up of 80 contractors, vendors and consultants, using 47 sets of construction documents. The team worked 122 calendar days.


Going GeO

• 300 Reunion Blvd. E., Dallas

• Open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Friday, 9:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday. Last elevator goes up 15 minutes before closing.

• $16, $14 ages 65+, $8 ages 4-12, free under age 3

• 866-204-0622; buy tickets at www.reuniontower.com


Reunion through the years

• 1974 — On Oct. 15, ground is broken for the Reunion Tower project.

• 1977 — The first Reunion Tower light show brightens the Dallas skyline as part of a December holiday ceremony.

• 1978 — On April 15, Reunion Tower and on May 1, the Hyatt Regency Dallas officially open to the public. The refurbished Union Station opens in October.

• 1980 — Reunion Arena is constructed by the city of Dallas at a cost of $27 million.

• 1987 — Construction of the city-owned Reunion Parking Garage is completed.

• 1996 — Woodbine Development Corporation and designer Deborah Lloyd Forrest renovate the interior of Reunion Tower.

• 2007 — The observation deck and Union Station close for renovations.

• 2008 — Reunion Tower and Union Station undergo a $46 million renovation; Union Station reopens in November.

• 2009 — Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck opens on Reunion Tower’s top rotating level. Reunion Arena is demolished.

• 2011 — Reunion Tower’s original warm-white lights are replaced with multicolored LED fixtures. A new light show is unveiled New Year’s Eve.

• 2013 — The observation deck and event space one level above it undergo major renovations and reopen as the GeO-Deck and Cloud Nine.

Source for timeline descriptions: The Richards Group


Posted 12:00am on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013

Since it opened in 1978, it has probably been printed on every postcard and imprinted on every memory of Dallas — the ball atop the glittering skyline.

But for the city’s iconic Reunion Tower, if you were to boil down to one word the aesthetic essence of its recently completed renovation, it would go beyond round to positively geodesic.

With two of the tower’s three upper floors, including the once popular observation deck, officially reopened after being closed for nearly six years, the structure’s trademark “geodesic” pattern — a grid of triangular shapes that form a dome, featured on the surface of the tower’s sphere topper — has become a primary design motif on the renovated structure. Everything echoes that pattern, from the tower’s new lobby banquette upholstery and illuminated wall panels, to sparkling, three-dimensional wall triangles.

Hence the observation deck’s new name: GeO-Deck.

As masterminded by the tower’s owner, Ray Hunt’s Hunt Realty Investments, and developed by Woodbine Development Corporation (a longtime partner of Hunt), the multimillion-dollar tower renovation took about five months to complete. Its singular achievement is a melding of 21st-century digital technology with the timelessness of standing hundreds of feet above a major metropolis, making it a unique attraction in North Texas. On a clear day, you can see Fort Worth.

“With all the exciting things going on in Dallas, I think the timing of the tower’s reopening makes so much sense now,” says Chris Kleinert, chairman and CEO of Hunt Realty’s Hunt Consolidated Investments. “To reopen its observation deck after it’s been closed for so long can’t help but make that part of downtown more vibrant. We’re trying to give people more and more of a reason to stay in downtown by coming to the tower.”

To be sure, since the tower first staked out a niche in the Dallas skyline 35 years ago, boasting one of the nation’s earliest rotating, roof-top restaurants, it has been a must-see destination. But lately it had fallen behind the times, relegated to also-ran status, with its observation deck and selection of outdated telescopes, relics of an earlier era of attractions.

“We really wanted to bring the deck into the 21st century,” says Kleinert.

Starting from the bottom

The back-to-the-future trip begins with the tower’s lowest point: the lobby. This newly renovated space features three refurbished elevators. A curved glass wall surrounds the ticket box area, complete with a pixelated rendition of the Dallas skyline. At kiosks, visitors can take photos that can later be set against a Dallas backdrop.

Framing the elevator towers in the lobby is a woven metal screen embedded with the first of what will be one of the tower’s most consistent design touches: a cluster of light-emitting diode, or LED, lights, displaying alternating spatial panels of colors — blue, green and pinkish-purple.

“These lights bring a much-needed color and textural element to the lobby area, as they can change colors or blink as desired,” says Judy Pesek, a regional managing principal at Gensler, the project’s principal architect and interior designer.

The first stop along the much faster elevator ride is, arguably, to the centerpiece of the tower’s facelift: the GeO-Deck.

The San Francisco software company Stimulant installed what is called a “Halo,” comprising two banks of 15 interconnected, 55-inch television-computer screens that massively expand a visitor’s informational and visual scope.

Each screen operates like an oversized iPad. With the swipe of a hand, a dizzying assortment of features can be accessed among each screen’s five main “interactive experiences,” with such names as From Here to There, High Lights, and Dallas Landmarks.

With the help of five high-def cameras suspended on the tower’s exterior, one can “zoom” around a 360-degree panorama of Dallas. The cameras can be trained down to the precise level of a pigeon waddling around on a sidewalk or a commuter running to catch a train at Union Station, or on the precise outlines of the Santiago Calatrava-designed Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge.

“None of this technology was even available only five years ago,” says Kleinert. “This technology gives one the ability to just walk up and start zooming in pretty much everywhere, from Dealey Plaza or SMU to Cowboys Stadium. If you don’t know much about Dallas, you now can walk up to this interactive machine and, within a few seconds, figure out things to do in the city. It’s essentially one big Google Map in the sky tailored for each guest.”

City secrets

But it’s not all about what’s going on right outside the massive windows. Using the Halo’s screens, someone can roam from a poignant video on the Kennedy assassination to highly precise city maps that come to life with brilliant photos (many of them courtesy of renowned Texas photographer Randal Ford).

In a category known as “hidden gems,” one can “visit” and learn more about the likes of Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse, the Adolphus Hotel, Deep Ellum Brewing Co., the Katy Trail Ice House and the Highland Park Soda Fountain.

“Hidden gems was put in,” says Kleinert, “because for every place you go, it is fun to really understand what it is you are seeing and to have it placed in its geographic context in relation to the entire city. If you’re not from here, then you can see what the locals like to do. And if you do live here, then you can still learn so much more about places that you might already know.”

As for the design around the GeO-Deck, Gensler made sure to err on the side of simplicity and unobtrusiveness. A charcoal gray wool carpet reproduces an accurate Dallas city grid. The surrounding walls and ceiling feature more LED lighting, and the triangular geodesic dome motif emerges from the wall in a fun moment of three-dimensionality.

“It is all about adding texture, color and fun to the deck,” says Pesek. “We purposely kept the ceiling as simple as possible with no strong lighting because we didn’t want it to detract from either the Halo screens, nor the light shows going on outside the building.”

A new restaurant

Of course, the outdoor observation deck remains, but gone is its formerly unsightly chain-link fence security border. It has been replaced with a more streamlined steel-cable version that doesn’t block a visitor’s view. Ringing the deck are seven of the latest in high-definition telescopes.

One floor up from the GeO-Deck, a guest encounters the other main area of the tower’s renovation: Cloud Nine Café. The new quick-service eatery features a mostly lunchtime menu of classic Southern dishes (fried green tomatoes) or Tex-Mex fare (chicken adobo torta, tacos de papas, pecan-praline pie) designed by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, whose 4-year-old, more upscale Five Sixty restaurant on the tower’s top floor stayed open during renovations.

The main technological feature of the Cloud Nine Café space is its mood-enhancing ceiling, an LED-powered digital canopy that can simulate an ever-changing and capricious pattern of Texas weather. The ceiling can go from a realistic sunrise or sunset, to brilliant sunshine, to a torrential rain storm, and finish with dazzling lightning.

Down the road, the tower designers hope to add even more technologically driven experiences. One in particular has to do with the classic light shows, emanating from the tower’s sphere. In the works is a plan to allow visitors to create their own personalized light show.

“We’ll have periodic contests,” says Kleinert, “and if somebody creates one that is unique, cool and able to be re-created, then we would pick one of those visitor-created light shows and put it up on the tower.”

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