Downtown Knoxville is shining a bit brighter after the iconic Tennessee Theatre sign was re-lit Wednesday night.
Hundreds of people gathered on Gay Street for the open house and relighting ceremony. The city closed Gay Street between Clinch and Church avenues so people could fill the street to watch the sign light up.
The vertical sign is a reproduction of the original one crews hung when the theatre opened in 1928. The original sign was taken down in 1956. The current sign was hung as part of the theatre's $28 million restoration in 2005.
"Really it is more than a sign. It represents all that is great about Knoxville," said Beck Hancock, executive director of the Tennessee Theatre. "It represents East Tennessee in magazine articles and television commercials. People have a really strong attachment to it."
Crews took the sign down in June so workers with Pattison Sign Group could change 3,300 light bulbs to LED lights, install electrical upgrades, repair cosmetic damage and repaint the 12-year-old sign and marquee, which was damaged during several hailstorms.
While that work was underway, crews also upgraded and repaired the theatre's marquee. They replaced about 2,400 light bulbs on the marquee and replaced and upgraded the message boards.
After more than 11 weeks of refurbishing work, the sign was fastened back in place on the front theatre wall on Aug. 24.
This sign has represented the City of Knoxville well for many years. Now it's time to light it up! pic.twitter.com/RKJeQLqULG— Mayor Rogero (@MayorRogero) September 1, 2016
"With this refurbishment complete, we are assured that the sign and the marquee will shine brightly above Gay Street for many more years," Hancock said.
The Tennessee Theatre has been conducting a fundraising campaign to cover the cost of the $150,000 refurbishment. So far, $136,000 have been raised, including a $65,000 grant from the city of Knoxville. The Tennessee Theatre is still collecting donations to cover the remainder of the costs.
Guests at the open house Wednesday were able to sponsor a light bulb for $25 or purchase commemorative items like a vertical sign glass ornament. Donors were also able to cover the cost of LED bulbs for an entire letter - the "T" was $2,000, and the other letters were $1,000 each. All the letters have been sponsored.
(© 2016 WBIR)