Bright future for downtown Tampa's colorful landmark

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Tampa's skyline is highlighted by its crown jewel -- a glowing tower, standing tall, and always attracting eyes.

"We are the landmark of Tampa," proclaimed Terri-lynn Mitchell, the district manager for Stiles Property Management. "When you look at the skyline, that's what you see."

High above Davis Islands and towering over the Forum, the SunTrust Building is one of the Bay Area's giants. But more impressive than its 37 floors or its 527,000 square feet of office space is the nightly light show.

"It makes me happy every night I look at it," offered the building's chief engineer, Roque Bellotti.

Whether it's a giant Lightning logo or a starry surprise, the lights can be captivating. But how exactly do they work? To find out, we headed up, and up, and up -- to a mechanical room on the building's 37th floor.

That's where Tampa's ultimate night light gets its groove.

"We have to create the shows on the PC first before we can upload them onto the player," Bellotti explained. "Then we can generate time schedules."

So a computer controls the show. But where are the giant lights? Turns out there aren't any.

"There's 322 light fixtures; each light fixture has 36 LEDs in them," Bellotti continued.

That adds-up to more than 11,500 lights. They surround all four sides of the SunTrust Building.

"The lights are actually facing towards inside of the ziggurat," Bellotti said. "The ziggurat has panels on nine different levels and the lights reflect off those panels and shoot out."

Meaning, it's the reflections -- not the lights themselves your marveling at. They can be seen and enjoyed for miles. The little guys are able to display just about any color you can imagine; they can also pulse and shimmer.

The lights weren't always LEDs; those were installed back in 2008. Prior to that, the lights were larger fixtures and it used to take a crew of four guys about six hours to change the colors.

But with the new computerized capabilities, the lights have basically taken on a life of their own. Charities, teams, and all sorts of organizations are lining up to get their name in lights, so to speak.

"I think the original intent was to put lighting in horizontal scales of different colors and then it just generated more interest in the lighting," Bellotti continued.

"In March, we do the American Red Cross. In February, we do the pulsating red for Go Red for Women. We do July 4th. We do pink for breast cancer," Mitchell said.

So whether you're 40 stories up or safely on the ground looking up, now you know what's behind downtown's iconic 'lighthouse.'

"A lot of people think it's magical, but it isn't," Bellotti added. "It's just lighting."