BUSINESS: Beaming with Pride

Gay couple Mark Reed and Dante Walkup fulfill their decade-old dream of installing LED lights on Reunion Tower

Wiedamark.Reed.Walkup

GLOWING NEW SHOWROOM | Dante Walkup, left, and Mark Reed recently moved Wiedamark Lighting to a new showroom and warehouse on Harry Hines Boulevard. (Patrick Hoffman/Special to the Voice)

DANIEL VILLARREAL  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

When Mark Reed and Dante Walkup became a serious couple in 2000, they agreed they wanted to have fun in their 50s. But to do that they’d want to leave their respective jobs as a furniture salesman and a psychologist and start their own business.

Having spent the last year installing LED lights around their Las Colinas home, the couple decided they’d use their sales and communications skills to start an LED lighting company — a relatively new business idea at the time.

They converted their three-car garage into a warehouse and turned their basement, bedroom and kitchen into workspaces for them and five other employees.

Since then, Wiedamark has grown into a $3.5 million dollar company with about 300 retailers internationally and a brand new showroom and warehouse on Harry Hines Boulevard. But from their very first year, Reed and Walkup knew they wanted to put their business on the map by updating one of Dallas’ most iconic buildings — they wanted to refit Reunion Tower with their LEDs.

Tower

HIGH LIGHTS OF THE JOB | A technician from Ropeworks installs one of the 259 new fixtures. (Frank Huster/Special to the Voice)

If you’ve ever been on Cedar Springs, chances are you’ve probably seen some of Wiedamark’s lights. The fiberglass chandelier hanging over the bar at Sue Ellen’s, the mood-lighting wall sconces in the Rose Room at S4, the colored lighting at the Legacy of Love Monument — that’s all Wiedamark.

Reed and Walkup don’t usually install the lights themselves. They order the fixtures from China and Taiwan, then resell them to retailers who install them for companies looking to add a splash of color to their venues.

After several years on Oak Lawn Avenue near Maple, Wiedamark recently relocated to Harry Hines. Their new digs are easy to ignore by day but lit up in turquoise, emerald and ruby at night. Inside, it seems more like an art gallery than a commercial space.

Over their reception desk hangs four large lime-green letters spelling “LOVE.” A wall-size LED screen in their conference room displays an unfurling rainbow, its bows opening up like the pages of a book. But the colorful hallway in the back contains the real wonders: sculpted walls that seem to breathe in the golden-to-violet light, dance floor tiles that change color with each step and a mirrored lounge with a glistening ceiling of twinkling LED stars.

Interiors, exteriors, landscapes, pools, bars, bathrooms — you name it, they can put lights in it.

They’ve provided resort lighting in Jamaica and highlights at the Maya Bar in New Zealand, just to name a few. A wealthy Saudi Arabian once wanted them to install high-end lights in his palace. Instead of traveling to his home country, they invited him to meet them during a trip to Vienna.

Reed and Walkup say that in their nine years of business they have never made a single cold call. As one of the first online shippers of LED equipment, the customers found them.

Their first year in, the Hyatt Hotel hired them to light its Christmas party, giving Reed and Walkup the perfect chance to share their Reunion Tower idea with Hyatt’s head of engineering, Brett Killingsworth. The idea instantly intrigued him.

In many ways LEDs were better than the tower’s older, 130-watt bulbs: LEDs use a fraction of the energy, stay cool to the touch and can last up to 10 times longer than old-fashioned bulbs. But unfortunately for Reed and Walkup, 2004 technology had not yet advanced far enough to make LED lights visible on the tower from miles away.

So immediately, Reed and Walkup’s team began working on an improved LED design that would take five years to complete.

To help make the light more visible from a greater range of view, they fitted a spherical dome onto a flat-surfaced LED, creating something resembling the Jetsons’ space car.

At 4 a.m. one day,  Walkup took the prototype and held it off the top of Reunion Tower while Reed checked whether he could see it clearly from four different locations several miles away. He could.

But the prototype had a major design flaw — it couldn’t keep out rainwater. A high-pressure water test left its circuit board drenched, something that would cause it to fail in a storm.

So over the next few years, they bolted the LED dome to a hexagonal metal base which increased the size and weight while preventing seepage. But even then, their design corroded when exposed to salty air conditions.

Frustrated with their failed attempts, Reed and Walkup turned to an engineer friend for help. He streamlined their design

Ball

SHINING DEBUT | The tower was fittingly awash in rainbow colors on New Year’s Eve.

into a lighter, less clunky model made entirely of non-corrosive stainless steel. And best of all, it kept out rainwater.
Sixteen weeks later, they had manufactured all the lights they needed.

But now that they had a workable design, they had an even bigger task ahead — installing 259 lights on the tower’s 118-foot geodesic sphere, all without endangering their workers or dropping the 20-pound fixtures onto someone 560 feet below.

Seattle’s Space Needle, Mount Rushmore and the Hoover Dam all need regular maintenance and inspection by certified professionals willing to work hundreds if not thousands of feet off the ground.

The group who does this kind of work is Ropeworks, a team of certified technicians from Reno, Nev., trained in rope access, tower climbing, rescue and fall protection. After seeing Ropeworks’ presentation, Reed thought they could best handle the high wind speeds and low temperatures atop Reunion Tower in the fall.

So from Oct. 30 through Nov. 21, from 5 a.m. till 6 p.m., seven days a week, four certified master electricians from Ropeworks rappelled from the top of the tower and hung along the dome’s 260 intersecting aluminum struts to disassemble the tower’s old fixtures and install Wiedamark’s new ones.

The Woodbine Development Co. (which owns the tower) hoped to keep the new lights secret until a surprise showing 15 minutes before New Year’s Day. But on Nov. 21 at 4:30 a.m., a Dallas photographer captured some footage of Wiedamark testing the lights.

The photographer then sent photo and video footage to WFAA-TV and the Dallas Observer.

By the next morning, everyone knew that for the first time in its 33-year history, the Reunion Tower had new lights.

“I was happy [the news] was out,” says Walkup. “We couldn’t talk about it in public, but our friends had known about the project for a long time. [Waiting for the unveiling] was like being pregnant for nine months, but then having the birth delayed to 10 months, then 11 months, then 12 months. And all this time you’re just waiting for it to finally happen.”

On New Year’s Eve, Reed and Walkup stood on the ninth floor balcony of their friend’s downtown condominium, the unlit dome of Reunion Tower clearly in view. Then the dome lit up at a quarter till midnight, a digital countdown on the ball ticking off each second.

Then, at midnight sharp, the Reunion Tower dome sparkled in a ecstatic wash of reds, greens, blues, and purples while Reed, Walkup and the rest of Dallas rang in the New Year.

After a 10-minute light show, the numbers 2012 encircled the dome in bright yellow until 5 o’ clock that morning.

Mentioning the new Omni Hotel and the other colorful LED-lit projects that have joined the Dallas landscape in the last few years, Walkup notes: “Dallas is a colorful city. We want to make it an exciting place to live and colored light helps people recognize that. Light is modern and fresh. It conveys youth. Dallas, a city of young ideas.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 27, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Man injured in dispute over $4 hot dog

Hudson says officers threw him to the ground during New Year’s Eve incident on Cedar Springs

DAVID TAFFET  |  taffet@dallasvoice.com

Hudson.Will3
LASTING IMPRESSION | Will Hudson suffered abrasions and bruises to his face when an unknown officer threw him to the ground in Oak Lawn on New Year’s Eve. (Photo courtesy Will Hudson)

Will Hudson never expected the simple purchase of a hot dog from a pushcart vendor on Cedar Springs to result in facial injuries and a night in jail.

On New Years Eve, Hudson and two friends did what they thought was the responsible thing to do. They rented a room at the nearby Holiday Inn on Harry Hines Boulevard and walked to the bars. After partying on the strip, they planned to take a quick cab ride back to their hotel.

The 23-year-old Drury College senior was in town visiting his parents during the winter break.

At about 10 p.m., before going into any of the bars, Hudson and his friend, Robert Fuggity of Houston, ordered a hotdog from Smoky Joe’s, a pushcart vendor that often sets up in front of S4 on Cedar Springs Road. The vendor prepared a hotdog and Hudson handed him a credit card.

Hudson said that the vendor immediately became agitated and said that he did not accept credit cards. So Fuggity said he would go to the ATM to get cash. The closest one is directly across the street outside the Round-Up Saloon.

Instead, Hudson said, the vendor called over nearby police. Hudson, who is 5-foot, 3-inches and weighs 130 pounds, said he was thrown to the ground, resulting in bruising to his face, including his cheek, ear and forehead. He and Fuggity were taken into custody for public drunkenness. They were transported to the City Detention Center downtown, a facility better known as “detox.”

Police may take someone into custody for public drunkenness if that person is suspected of being a danger to himself or others and can then hold that individual for six to 12 hours.

Hudson said that police did not do a sobriety test or take blood, nor did they offer to do either.

Hudson said he and his friend were held for 10 hours and released.

Both Hudson and Fuggity were given citations to appear in magistrate court. If they paid the $394 fine, the public drunkenness charge would remain on their record.

Dallas police LGBT liaison Officer Laura Martin said it was unlikely, but not impossible, that Dallas police would have been on foot on Cedar Springs at that hour. She suggested that instead, security guards employed by the bars answered the street vendor’s call and, after pushing Hudson to the ground, called police. Patrol cars were in the area all evening, Martin said.

According to the city of Dallas office for restaurant inspections, Smoky Joes does have a permit and permission to sell hot dogs on Cedar Springs.

Cedar Springs Merchants Association President Scott Whittall, who owns Buli, said that Smoky Joe’s is not a member of the retail group.

Rick Espaillat at Caven Enterprises, which operates S4 and several other bars in the area, said his company is not affiliated with the hot dog vendor, who operates on city-owned sidewalks, not on Caven property.

No contact information was available for Smoky Joe’s to get a comment for this story.

Adam Seidel, a Dallas attorney who represents Chad Gibson, the man injured in the 2009 Rainbow Lounge Raid in Fort Worth, said, “The events described by Mr. Hudson would make this level of force totally unjustifiable and excessive.”

He said that he looked forward to comparing Hudson’s version with that of the officers.

“How much of a danger am I for a $4 hot dog?” Hudson asked. He wondered why that level of force was used, especially since his friend had offered to run across the street and get the cash.

“Sometimes these cases are dismissed, but usually only after the officer fails to appear to testify at trial,” Seidel said. “Either way, public intoxication is a criminal offense, which, if not handled correctly, can result in a lifetime conviction on a person’s record.”

Hudson tried to get a copy of his arrest record. On Wednesday, Jan. 5, he went to Dallas police headquarters in The Cedars, but no records could be provided. Martin said there isn’t normally written documentation for a simple public intoxication arrest.

On Thursday, Jan. 6, Hudson went to court to answer the citation. He was given a sentence of time served and had to pay no court costs.

The arrest remains on his record, however. His request for deferred adjudication was denied.

Because of the facial abrasions, Martin said her lieutenant was trying to contact Hudson. Assistant Chief Vincent Golbeck referred the case to Internal Affairs. They’re interested in speaking to anyone else who witnessed the incident.

Hudson is considering pursuing legal action as a result of his injuries.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

DART Green Line coming to Oak Lawn

24-mile extension of DART train route will include 4 stops in, around Oak Lawn, making travel easier for YFT and food pantry clients

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

ALL ABOARD | DART’s Green Line already includes a stop in Deep Ellum, pictured, and Victory Plaza. Beginning Monday, the train will also make stops near Youth First Texas’ location, the Resource Center Dallas Food Pantry and Parkland Hospital. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

On Dec. 6, DART opens a 24-mile extension of the Green Line with four stations in and around Oak Lawn.

The four new Oak Lawn-area stations are Market Center Station, Southwestern Medical District/Parkland Station, Inwood/Love Field Station and Burbank Station.

Market Center Station is the first stop north of Victory Station. The American Airlines Arena was the northern terminus of the original four miles of the Green Line that opened in 2009 in time to connect riders from the Red and Blue Lines to the State Fair.

Located on Harry Hines Boulevard, Market Center Station should have greatest impact on the youngest members of LGBT community.Located across the street from Youth First Texas, the rail link will make services to the center available to hundreds more young people.

Youth First Texas Director of Development and Administration Sam Wilkes said the organization chose their new location partially because of the proximity to DART.

“Being at a DART hub, we’re excited to see how many will access Youth First Texas now that the line has come to fruition,” Wilkes said.

Bus service has been available, but waiting for a train at a well-lit station at night is safer and the service easier to access, he said.

Parkland Station, the second new Oak Lawn area stop, is located between Maple Avenue and Harry Hines Boulevard near Hudnall Street. Once the new Parkland Hospital is built, the stop will be at the facility’s entrance.

For now, DART will be a short one-block walk away from the main hospital, AIDS clinic Amelia Court, Zale-Lipshy and Children’s Hospital. St. Paul Hospital and the rest of UT Southwestern are a longer walk and connected by shuttle bus service.

Inwood Station on Inwood Road at Denton Drive Cutoff is across the street from the Resource Center Dallas Nutrition Center/Food Pantry. The Dallas Eagle is a block south and Cathedral of Hope is two blocks north. Resource Center Dallas’ proposed new building is also a block from this stop.

“It will make it quicker and easier for clients who access the pantry, especially those who travel great distances,” said Resource Center Dallas spokesman Rafael McDonnell.

The pantry is bracing for new clients who will now be able to access the agency’s services more easily. But McDonnell wasn’t worried about shortages of food due to additional clients.

“We’ll let folks know and we hope they’ll step up as usual,” McDonnell said.

Cathedral of Hope spokesman Coy James said, “We have lots of people who commute from all over the place. We have people who currently use the bus to get to services.”

He said that a number of church staff members were looking at ways to use the train to commute to work.

“We’re looking forward to it,” he said.

To travel by DART to Love Field, bus 39 will connect Inwood Station with the airport terminal. That bus line will operate daily.

Large parking areas will open for commuters from Oak Lawn at Market Center, Inwood and Parkland Stations. Parking in DART lots is free.

The final new Oak Lawn area station is Burbank Station at the north end of Love Field adjacent to Southwest Airlines corporate headquarters. Southwest employees can get to work and Love Field West neighborhood commuters may take advantage of this stop, although no parking is available.

North of Love Field is Bachman Station, located just south of Northwest Highway at Denton Drive. Two more stations in Dallas are located at Walnut Hill Road and Royal Lane along Denton Drive before the Green Line heads into Farmers Branch and Carrollton.

Rafael McDonnell

Next summer, Green Line commuters will be able to travel all the way to Denton when the A Train opens. That line will connect Downtown Denton to Trinity Mills Station with four other stops along the 21-mile route.

From the southern end of the Green Line at Fair Park, four new stations in Pleasant Grove and South Dallas extend the line to the southeast corner of Loop 12.

Also opening Monday is the first phase of the Orange Line. Eventually, that route will connect the system with DFW Airport. Originally the Orange Line will duplicate service from other lines on a limited schedule.

The Orange Line will follow the Red Line route from Plano through Downtown Dallas. Rather than continue to Oak Cliff, the Orange Line will head north along the Green Line route from West End Station to Bachman Station.

When the Orange Line is completed, it will head west from Bachman Lake through Irving and Las Colinas to the airport. The first Irving phase should open in 2012.

Also opening on Monday is the new Lake Highlands Station on Walnut Hill Road at White Rock Trail. This infill stop is between the White Rock Station and LBJ/Skillman Station on the Blue Line. That station will provide an extra stop for White Rock Lake skateboarders, joggers or bike riders taking their bicycles on the train to the trail.

The Blue Line that now terminates in Garland will continue to Rowlett by 2012.

Also planned but without construction dates are a second Downtown alignment. During rush hours, three lines heading through Downtown on one set of tracks gets congested. Now the Orange Line and the expanded service on the Green Line will add extra rail traffic.

The Blue Line will expand south from Ledbetter Station to the new UNT Dallas campus in South Dallas. No date for that expansion is set.

The opening of 15 stations along 24 miles of new track is the largest single-day expansion of a light rail system in the country since 1990. The $1.8 billion Green Line opens on time and within budget.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

YFT plans fundraiser to kick off Pride celebrations

Event intended to help make up shortfall in youth group’s budget caused by economic downturn

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Sam Wilkes
Sam Wilkes

Youth First Texas kicks off Pride with a fundraising party at the home of Jo Bess Jackson and Joanne Martin on Sept. 11.

“It’s a great way for those in our community who want to celebrate Pride and support a great organization,” said Youth First Texas Director of Development and Administration Sam Wilkes.

Advisory board member Renee Baker put out a call to members of the Women’s Business Network to help raise money for the center after it moved to its new location. Jackson and Martin responded.

While no admission to the party will be charged, Wilkes said they will showcase the services the organization offers and hope the community will be generous with its financial support.

“We’ll probably have a short presentation. A youth or two will make an appeal,” said board member Chris Hendrix.

He said the group was looking for monthly donors who will make a multi-year commitment and challenge appeals.

Wilkes said that their Collin County group recently lost its space and is currently meeting at an office owned by Big Brothers/Big Sisters. The group is looking for a space of its own.

“We need a smaller, more secure spot,” he said. “YFT Collin County is a more intimate group. We have a couple of things in the works and are looking for what will be the best fit.”

The main Dallas center moved earlier this year to a new location on Harry Hines Boulevard.

Baker said the old space on Maple Avenue leaked, had air conditioning problems, was located near a meth clinic and had homeless people hanging out on the property. The new, more modern facility is safer and has attracted more youth.

“As of last month, we served 1,300 individuals so far this year,” Baker said.

That’s about a 25 percent increase in the number accessing services, and with the safer location some attend more often.

YFT is gearing up for another increase later this year when DART’s Green Line opens in December.

Market Center Station is across the street from their new building, making the facility even more accessible.

Jackson said she and her partner were delighted to open their house to help the organization continue to offer a variety of services.

“I’m a cheerleader for them,” Jackson said. “What they do is not duplicated by anyone else.”

She was referring to the way YFT integrates social activities with group and individual counseling.

“We offer community dinners to develop peer groups not based on drugs and alcohol,” Wilkes said.

Baker said she’s participated in movie nights, arts and crafts activities and cooking classes.

Twice a month, a gender identity group helps transgender youth gain self-acceptance. Lawyers work with the group pro bono to explain the steps needed to change legal papers, and counselors help them with a variety of questions and help them deal with pent up anxiety.

A six-week coming out series helps youth cope with family, friends and school.

YFT provides additional, unlimited free individual counseling as well. They partner with AIDS Arms and Resource Center Dallas to provide free HIV testing.

Wilkes said the agency works with a number of youth who are living on their own and struggling.

“Our food pantry is cleaned out and restocked each week,” he said.

Jackson and Martin have opened their North Dallas home to other groups many times, Jackson said. She is an estate-planning attorney who works with a number of transitioning people and with same-sex couples and single gays and lesbians.

“We have to protect ourselves even when the law doesn’t,” Jackson said. “We have to be creative.”

She said that’s exactly what YFT does that for LGBT youth and hoped the community would offer its support.

Sept. 11. 6 p.m.-8:30 p.m. at a private residence in North Dallas. To RSVP and attend the Youth First Texas party, e-mail Sam Wilkes at samw@youthfirsttexas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 27, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas