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Ugly Rita: Hurricane slows but doesn't stop Houston event professionals

Hurricane Rita, the unwelcome sister hurricane following Katrina on the U.S. Gulf Coast, made landfall over the weekend in Texas, but Houston event pros don't predict dire fallout.

Clare Sullivan Jackson, CSEP, tells Special Events that her Houston-based event production company Sullivan Group ( is "back in full swing" after closing a week ago in anticipation of Rita.

"Rita hit east of Houston; we had lots of debris and a power outage, but we did not get the brunt of it," Jackson says. "In heeding the city's evacuation plan, we lost two days of productivity." She was careful to protect her operation: "On Wednesday in preparation, we backed up all data on a separate hard drive we sent to one location, and on disks that we sent to a separate [location]. We unhooked and secured all computers, took art off the walls, etc." [For more on disaster preparedness, see the following story in this edition of Eventline.]

So far, the impact on her business has not been severe. "We have had only one cancellation so far; we have a second cancellation pending. But the numbers are too small to seriously affect us," she says. "We lost much more during Katrina—approximately 20 percent of our fourth quarter. However, we picked up Katrina business rescheduled to Houston. It's too soon to tell where everything will land financially. The best news is that we are safe and intact."

Andrew Lytwyn's Houston DMC Cosmo Cool Concepts ( lost "quite a bit of business" after having to shut down for a day and a half. The major impact on his business wasn't flooding or power outages, but the mandatory evacuation. "We gave everyone all the time off they required to make sure they and their families were safe," Lytwyn says.

Today, his business is "98 percent" back: "The 2 percent is some of our vendors are not back in town yet." He hopes operations will return to normal by mid-October.

With the double whammy of Rita following Katrina, Lytwyn forecasts a 12 percent dip in revenue this year. His biggest challenge: "Finding new business to make up for the lost revenue." Lytwyn has concerns that some clients may turn away from Texas as an event destination out of hurricane fears. "I hope they will understand these big storms are so rare, and they have a 30-year cycle," he notes.

Jan Rocco, owner of Houston's Party Props (, was part of the massive convoy heading out of the city: "It wasn't pretty getting out of town, and there were no airline tickets available to fly anywhere." But she and her crew were back at work on Monday. "We have had cancellations of some events, but just until they can reschedule," she says.

"The amazing thing through all of this was the phone calls that I received from everywhere offering support," Rocco adds. "It was pretty overwhelming."

Tax filing deadline extended

The Internal Revenue Service yesterday announced relief for taxpayers affected by Hurricane Rita. Deadlines for affected taxpayers to file returns, pay taxes and perform other time-sensitive acts have been postponed to Feb. 28, the same extended date that Congress granted to taxpayers affected by Hurricane Katrina. In the hardest-hit areas––those counties designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as “individual assistance areas”––the tax relief will be automatic, and taxpayers won’t need to do anything to get the extensions and other relief available.

Taxpayers who need to identify themselves as hurricane victims should write “Hurricane Rita” in red ink at the top of their tax forms or any other documents filed with the IRS. Taxpayers who need to alert the IRS or have other Rita-related questions can also call the special IRS disaster hotline at 866/562-5227 or visit

Special Events offers free resource blog

To post messages—including offers of jobs and housing and to search for event professionals in the hurricane areas—visit the free Special Events blog by clicking here.

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