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Why was the Dallas skyline blue? Here’s when and how downtown lights up

If you’ve ever driven near downtown Dallas at night, you’ve probably wondered why and how the colorful cityscape is lit up.

It turns out, there are many reasons for — and a lot of people behind — the glowing city lights.

Downtown buildings were illuminated in blue Wednesday night to mourn the loss of 25-year-old Dallas police Officer Jacob Arellano, who was killed in a car crash on his way to work.

While the skyline sometimes is lit for somber reasons such as honoring someone’s life, it also lights up for more celebratory reasons, such as sports events and holidays.

“As more and more of these buildings have come on line with enhanced lighting and special effects, it’s become a way to send a powerful message of unity in times of crisis and celebration,” Downtown Dallas Inc. spokesman Scott Goldstein said.

Here’s everything you need to know about Dallas’ skyline lights:

Who lights the skyline?

There isn’t a single person in charge. Lighting up the skyline is a coordinated effort among various downtown buildings’ property managers, who control their own lighting boards.

The downtown Dallas skyline is seen behind the Margaret McDermott Bridge lit in Southwest Airlines colors, including Reunion Tower, which displayed the name “Herb,” in memory of Herb Kelleher on Jan. 5, 2019.(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

Downtown Dallas Inc., an advocacy organization for businesses in the area, has some responsibility for organizing a citywide light show. It primarily manages and shares requests with buildings if they come from the mayor’s office, City Council or agencies like the Dallas Police Department.

“We’ve naturally become a go-between because we maintain contacts for all the buildings,” Goldstein said.

However, Downtown Dallas Inc. does not control any of the lights or make requests of its own — it’s up to the individual buildings to change their lighting schemes.

How does it work?

In the case of Wednesday’s memorial lights, Downtown Dallas Inc. received a request from Dallas police Wednesday evening and shared the email with building managers in the downtown area.

“That’s often how these things happen — if it’s based on a world event, it will be last minute, but if it’s based around a holiday or some occurrence in the distant future, we’ll send a request out sometimes weeks or months in advance,” Goldstein said.

Some of the more prominent buildings that often participate in the citywide light shows include Bank of America Plaza, Reunion Tower, the Omni Hotel and AT&T’s Whitacre Tower.

“The coordination usually happens via email … and we all try to do the same events if we can,” said Billy Rowland, Bank of America Plaza operations manager.

Getting every building on board isn’t necessarily a simple task. Each tower reviews applications for light-show requests and has different rules for what it can and can’t display.

“It’s not as easy as pushing one button; that would make it a lot easier,” Goldstein said.

Rowland, who has been running Bank of America Plaza’s lights since 2010, said the skyscraper typically accepts requests only from charities and does not engage in political messaging. Meanwhile, the Omni, which is run by the city of Dallas, must adhere to the city’s particular set of rules that permit a light change only if something is happening in the area.

Bank of America Plaza, which is usually lit up an iconic green, also allows some people to control the building’s lighting scheme at night for just five minutes using an invitation-only app called “My Dallas Lights.” The app, which launched in 2018, was initially shared with tenants and has since grown. But it’s not available during charity events or other big lighting efforts.

When can you see downtown lit up?

It depends — there is no ‘master’ schedule that the downtown buildings adhere to.

But you can usually count on downtown to be lit up for major holidays such as Christmas, New Year’s and the Fourth of July. On New Year’s Eve, all downtown buildings coordinate for a light show after going dark for the fireworks celebration.

Rowland said the skyline will likely remain blue Thursday night in honor of Arellano. On Saturday, the plaza will be lit pink and teal for National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

September and October are considered some of the busiest months for charities, which usually means increased lighting changes. The next set of busy months for light shows are March and April.

If you’re unsure why the skyline is lit up, the Bank of America Plaza website features a colored banner at night with an explanation of the change in the lights.

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