It’s the “Seattle Star” now, which is sure to bring mixed feelings.

For so many, and for so long, the winter wonder that clung to the side of the Bon Marché, and later, the Macy’s department store at Third and Pine was associated with the company that hung it.

And now that the building is completely occupied by Amazon — as is so much of downtown — well, the star could have been replaced by a smile, on an “a.” So there’s your first gift of the season.

Whatever it’s called, know this: The star has been refurbished and equipped with new bulbs, and a new, philanthropic purpose beyond letting us know that Christmastime is here.

It will not only shine brighter, but lighten the burden for families impacted by homelessness.

The star is retaining the original design dreamed up by the late Bob James, who for more than 35 years was the in-house designer for the downtown Bon Marché, the original department store that opened in 1928. (Macy’s took over in 2004, and closed last February.)

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Many of the aged components have been replaced, and the star has been equipped with LED lights, which will not only cut energy consumption but allow the star to glow more consistently, and in endless new ways.

Western Neon’s president, André Lucero, leads the installation Wednesday of the Seattle Star. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)
Western Neon’s president, André Lucero, leads the installation Wednesday of the Seattle Star. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

“It’s refreshing to have that look in 2020,” said Dylan Neuwirth, the creative director at Western Neon, which repaired and installed the star last year with $250,000 from Amazon.

This year, the building’s owner, Starwood Capital Group, paid another $250,000 for a new version of the star, reusing some pieces of the old one. The whole thing measures 160 feet high, with a wingspan of 75 feet; its 32 metal arms come in lengths from 15 feet to 35 feet.

“It’s a nice and healthy and a consistent glow, which is richly deserved,” Neuwirth said. “It’s what we hope for. You want to match that nostalgic memory of that star.

“If you can match that memory, well, that was the goal.”

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But along with that nostalgia will come a modern — and philanthropic — twist.

A new program called “15 Seconds of Stardom” will allow people to purchase, play and view a programmed light show on the Seattle Star from anywhere, and donate to Mary’s Place — a shelter for women, children and families — in the process.

The refurbished holiday star now features rotating colors from 4,215 new LEDs and is called the Seattle Star. It’s in its familiar position on the southeast corner of the former Macy’s department store. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)
The refurbished holiday star now features rotating colors from 4,215 new LEDs and is called the Seattle Star. It’s in its familiar position on the southeast corner of the former Macy’s department store. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

Starting Friday, Nov. 20, people can reserve a time slot on the star and choose from patterns and colors to create their own, 15-second custom display on the star for $15; more money buys increments of one minute, 15 minutes and 30 minutes.

Buyers can preview their light shows before purchase, and be emailed a link to a status page where they can follow a countdown to when their show will go live. It can all be viewed online, or in person, by anyone.

After the show airs, the buyer will receive a video of their show, as it played on the star, via email, which they can then share. (High-demand time slots, such as New Year’s Eve, Christmas Eve and Christmas, will initially be closed for booking.)

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A portion of proceeds from each purchase will be donated to Mary’s
Place
, a nonprofit with which Amazon has partnered, most recently giving it space in one of its buildings.

The idea came from Paul Brenneke, the executive chairman of Sortis Holdings, the developer of the building.

“We are right at the forefront of the homeless problem there,” he said. “So [giving to Mary’s Place] was important to us.” He couldn’t say what portion of the proceeds will go to the nonprofit; they need to sort expenses first.

As for the rest of us?

“We’re bringing some life back to downtown and the building and the community,” Brenneke said, “and maybe creating something fun in all these times.”

The star in place, workers check its alignment atop the roof of the former Macy’s and before that, the Bon Marche department store.

Wednesday November 18, 2020 215645 (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)
The star in place, workers check its alignment atop the roof of the former Macy’s and before that, the Bon Marche department store. Wednesday November 18, 2020 215645 (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

The “15 Seconds of Stardom” program was meant to be “a selfie moment,” Brenneke said, “and then COVID hit, and that’s where we added the virtual livestreaming of the star.

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“We had hoped that it would be over by now.”

The Seattle Star will be lit at 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 27, in conjunction with the Westlake Tree Lighting, and will run through Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.

The star’s programming is made possible with a controller made by a U.K.-based company called Pharos, which has done lighting displays at theme parks, arenas and churches; and Brain Bucket, an interactive developer out of Portland.

“What I have seen is mind-blowing,” Neuwirth said of early lighting runs. “Any time you take over 4,000 individual nodes and cast lights, shadows and colors, it’s spectacular.”

Western Neon President André Lucero remembered working in the downtown corridor after moving to Seattle in 2003 and seeing the star go up with such care, and only staying up for a short time.

But this year, he said, it is going up at the perfect time.

“The star is one of the premier anchors for people when there’s no anchor,” Lucero said. “This can be a symbol of hope for them. And if we can be a part of it, that’s what it’s all about.”