The Ripken Experience, LeConte Center elevate Pigeon Forge's destination status
By Steve Aust
Cal Ripken’s 20-year career as a Hall of Fame shortstop and third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles generated many impressive statistics: more than 3,000 hits, 400 home runs and two Most Valuable Player awards. However, his most memorable achievement was playing in 2,632 consecutive games, which bested Lou Gehrig’s previous record by more than 500 games. Ripken’s greatness lies in his persistence and dedication inasmuch as it does his talent.
Ripken hopes to instill that same diligence in baseball’s next generation. To that end, he and his family operate the Ripken Experience, which provides developmental camps, tournament venues and other amenities for younger players.
Following the success of Ripken Experience sites established in Aberdeen, MD (Ripken’s hometown) and Myrtle Beach, SC, the city of Pigeon Forge, TN built a baseball-training facility, hiring Ripken on a 10-year contract to manage it.
The facility’s developer, Barge Waggoner Sumner & Cannon, hired Custom Craftsman Signs (Sevierville, TN) to fabricate iconic entry signage. Brother Zank, Custom Craftsman’s proprietor, said the relationship began with wayfinding-design services and progressed from there. He designed the program using Gerber Omega 5.0 and Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.
For the towering main-entry sign, Zank collaborated with Lexington, KY-based Integrated Sign & Graphic, Sevierville-based Bush Builders and Miller Iron Works for structural-steel welding, cabinet fabrication and site prep. Zank said engineering such a behemoth sign to conform to the surrounding escarpment required augmenting concrete footings, installing heavier Schedule 40 base pipes, and specifying stouter baseplates and anchor bolts.
The primary sign comprises an aluminum cabinet with push-through, routed-acrylic letters and 6,500K white-LED modules. The sign’s masonry base and Douglas fir column evoke rustic east Tennessee. To complement the primary sign, Integrated fabricated rolled-aluminum, MIG-welded pennants. They’re designed to move with the wind like weather-vanes by installing them over a fixed-pipe base.
Virtually across the street from The Ripken Experience stands the Leconte Center, a $45-million dollar facility that hosts concerts, conferences, gymnastics competitions and other special events. Zank, who plies much of his trade for tourism-related businesses, also fabricated building signs following a logo designed by Nashville-based Bohan Advertising to mesh with architectural ironwork designed by SRA Architects’ Mike Smelcer.
“The original plan was to suspend the main sign in the porte-cochere in the front, but we located it on the wall over the entrance doors to reduce structural requirements and provide better visibility,” Zank said.
The 22-ft.-long main-ID sign has multi-level elements that were routed on a ShopBot CNC router from Duna Corafoam® HDU and mounted over a 2-in.-thick HDU base panel with a lightly sandblasted texture, heavy chamfered edges and seams and 23k gilded accents. The secondary 10-ft.-long signs were similarly fabricated.
Zank and his staff prepped the panels with oil-based primer and coated them with Sherwin-Williams Duration acrylic paints and Ronan duranodic metallic acrylics. Assembly entailed aligning aluminum studs and bonding parts with GE 1200 silicone adhesive.
“The LeConte Center’s gilded in-lines required tricky fabrication to create smooth curves,” he said. “A half-round profile enhances reflection of light, but limits attachment options. We created a tongue-in-groove profile that extends into the sign blank and creates flawless flow while allowing separate assembly and adhesion.”
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