Alexandrite is one of the rarest gemstones in the world. It is a color change-variety gemstone with dual colors that can appear as a vivid grass green in the daylight and fluorescent light and an intense raspberry red in incandescent light. Alexandrite is also the birthstone (along with Pearl) for those born during the month of June — the astrological month of Gemini. How fitting it is that this rare stone is also the birthstone of the individual responsible for the color changing lights of the buildings in the Charlotte skyline. 

That would be Moira Quinn. She’s the Chief Operating Officer and Senior VP of Communications at Charlotte Center City Partners. Lighting up the city is one of the many things she does for the organization. She began working on the lights back in 2003 when the Panthers NFL Team made it to the Superbowl. 

“We were so excited as a city that the Panthers were going to the Superbowl,” Quinn recalls, “We were doing pep rallies and all kinds of things. We thought, what [else] can we do to show our support for the Panthers. To show we are an amazing place?” 

An entire skyline of Panthers in blue was a pretty good start and an awesome display of pride and support. In sharing how it all came together, Quinn explained how the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, Charlotte Arts and Science Council, The Sports Foundation and The Foundation for the Carolinas all came together to brainstorm the idea that currently and colorfully illuminates the city. 

“I was elected to send an email to the property managers for all the buildings that had lights on top of them. I asked what it would take and if they would consider it. A lot of them said they could, and they did it,” said Quinn. However, back then, it was no easy feat, and Quinn acknowledges that with “big props to them.”  

At that time none of the buildings had LED lights, so changing colors represented a challenge. There simply weren’t many buildings that could do it, only about eight, and it required purchasing large and expensive colored gels. At the project’s beginning, the Duke Energy Center, the one that resembles a huge martini glass when lit, was the first building to have programmable LED lights. Today, buildings are being built with exterior LED lighting included. 

Coordinating, deciding upon colors and timing the lighting, something Quinn refers to as “calendaring,” requires time, commitment and often great specificity. On October 5, World Teachers Day, Charlotte Center City and some surrounding buildings were lit up in multiple colors (like a box of crayons) to honor teachers. 

How does that work? We asked. Is it multiple colors, or a single color? It all seems so complicated. Quinn explained. Her first step is to contact building managers and request they display a particular color. Generally, there’s a committee that considers the request. If they agree to honor the request, Quinn then sends them a color code (HEX, RGB, CMYK and Pantone) for the sake of consistency. One person’s idea of teal may not be another’s, so this is important for continuity and branding. After all, would you really know something was representative of the Panthers if the shade of blue used was Navy or Cornflower? Probably not. So, after a request is accepted, each building has its own process for how they calendar the colors, which is a computerized process. 

Most often, requests from Quinn are honored, but sometimes they are not. When she sent out requests to have buildings display red, white and blue colors for the Democratic National Convention (DNC) and the Republican National Conventions (RNC) being held in Charlotte, quite a few building managers refused. They felt like doing so was just “too political” and didn’t want to appear to be endorsing either political party. Conversely though, all buildings in the red and purple state that is home to Charlotte agree and shine brightly with rainbow colors during Pride Month, in support of the diversity and inclusion of the LGBTQ Community. “Everyone participates in Pride, happily and proudly,” says Quinn. “It’s a special group of people that do this work, and I am very proud of them.”  

Continuing to show their true colors, this year, when the world was in reflection of 9/11, uptown Charlotte building managers pre-programmed their computers to be bathed in red, white and blue colors starting at the stroke of midnight and remaining so for 24 hours. 

On some days, it’s not Quinn who makes the requests for building color changes. Sometimes it’s an individual citizen, enraptured, delighted and seeking to make an impact by having a building lit in a particular color. Quinn has filtered requests from people wanting a building turned pink or blue for a gender reveal, or twinkle because it’s their birthday and they’d like to impress friends and family with the display. 

But Quinn’s focus is on the collective, so if it’s commercial or self-interest oriented, the answer is no. 

After working with the project for so many years, you’d think Quinn has a favorite building she particularly enjoys seeing illuminated. She’s quick to share her thoughts:

“I can honestly say that I don’t,” she offers, “But I really love it when all the buildings have the same color. I just think it looks so amazing. It gives the city personality and it provides an emotional connection when you can drive through the city, look up and think, wow. Look at that. It is so beautiful.”  

That being said, Quinn pauses for a moment and reflects on a lighting of the Charlotte skyline she thinks of often, “When there was a shooting at UNC Charlotte [in 2019], I was able to contact the buildings and asked if we can be Charlotte strong and show that. It was such a horrible thing, but what it meant was that in times of trouble, we can be strong.”

With that, a moving display of strength, solidarity and compassion could be seen, glowing in UNC Charlotte 49ers green (HEX code #046A38), a color that also represents growth and renewal.

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