Bay Lights display on Bay Bridge may shine for 10 more years


From the very beginning we've known the Bay Lights were temporary. And on Thursday night we'll get a reminder of that. At 7 p.m. they'll turn the lights off for 10 minutes. Not because there's anything wrong with them, but as a deliberate effort to get your attention and maybe your support.

One year ago, hundreds stood in the pouring rain to watch the Bay Bridge come alive with light. But that was just the beginning.

"It's been overwhelming," said Bay Lights artist Leo Villareal. "We've had 25 million people have seen the Bay Lights over the last year and it's just an extraordinary response."

Artist Leo Villareal designed the computer-driven strands of LEDs that paint flowing patterns in the night sky and bring crowds to waterfront restaurants.

"People come in earlier and stay later in order to be able to enjoy the lights on the bridge," said Pete Sittnick with Waterbar and Epic Roasthouse.

Even hotels are getting a boost.

"Our top three floors, we've branded and marketed as Bay Lights rooms," said Kory Stewart with Hotel Vitale and Americano Restaurant. "And we've seen a 20 percent increase in those bookings. It's really become kind of a centerpiece of the neighborhood."

A centerpiece with an expiration date.

"This piece was installed with a two year lifespan in mind," Villareal said.

When Caltrans repaints the bridge in 2015, the lights will come down. But maybe not forever.

"The thought now is people really want the Bay Lights to remain for another 10 years, so we're embarking on that effort," Villareal said.

Rebuilding the lights as a permanent installation will cost $12 million. It's money they'll have to raise privately and bit by bit.

Two restaurants are offering Bay Lights cocktails to benefit the project, while another's giving 20 percent of a special four-course menu.

"We are doing everything we can to support it," Stewart said. "I really cannot imagine those lights going away at this point."

And neither can Illuminate the Arts CEO Ben Davis. He's the one who got the idea to light up the bridge and set about finding an artist and funding to make it happen.

"It is the most sublime work of public art I know in the world right now," he said. "And what I like to do is come down here and be with it, but then turn the other direction and watch others being with it. It creates community like nothing I've ever seen."

A community he hopes will rally around the Bay Lights to keep them shining for years to come.

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