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Some tent events impress because they are big, others because they are beautiful. Still others impress because they are big, beautiful and mystifying-how did they pull that off? Here's how:

A corporate client wanted to cap a three-day event in San Francisco with a formal dinner giving guests a "postcard view" of the city skyline and Golden Gate Bridge. But the perfect site-Fort Baker Pier, which looks back at the city from the town of Sausalito-is a working fishing pier on a windy waterfront.

Event designer and planner Wilson West of San Francisco and The Stuart Rental Co. of Sunnyvale, Calif., took on the challenge. The first step was getting special permits from the National Park Service, which oversees the pier, including a promise to return the government property to its pre-event condition.

The venue layout was configured to allow a perimeter exterior walkway so the fishermen could continue using the pier. To compensate for the uneven planks, the team installed a level subfloor, which ensured even footing for guests and a solid anchor for the tent walls. The team constructed a 7,800-square-foot tented environment including cocktail, dining and comfort station areas as well as catering, dressing and equipment storage rooms.

A reception annex on extended wall poles with clear walls and a clear top not only allowed guests a panoramic view of the city skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge, but also protected them from the bay's notorious winds. A custom 10-foot-square Art Deco mahogany bar adorned with golden urns full of flowers provided a visual anchor to the transparent structure.

Installation and removal took just over a week-and the fishermen were able to fish every day.

TREE HOUSING For a recent wedding at a private home, event designer Charles Banfield took to the trees. His team set a tent on a hillside perch "actually built out between the trees," says Banfield, president of West Hollywood, Calif.-based Charles Banfield Productions.

Installed on a 52-by-62-foot cantilevered platform, the tent stood 1 foot off the ground at one end and 18 feet off the ground at the far end. Within its 12-foot walls, the tent featured a fully swagged interior decorated with pepper trees. A total of 168 guests were seated inside the tent for dining.

Another 17-by-62-foot platform served as the kitchen area; a third 20-by-40-foot platform served as the cocktail area. Guests stepped down to a sunken dance floor. "They never had to touch the ground," Banfield says. Academy Tent and Canvas of Los Angeles provided the tent; Event Technical Services of Los Angeles built the structures.

Because the ravine below the tent site becomes a river after winter rains, Banfield included a white-noise background of croaking frogs. To guard guests against the evening chill, he stashed chenille throws behind the chairs along the tent perimeter.

Banfield knew his structures were sound thanks to an unexpected test: The day before the wedding, the magnitude 7.1 Hector Mine earthquake shook Southern California. "We had a structural engineer out to check it before we let anyone in, and it was perfectly fine," he reports.

STOPPING TRAFFIC It's no surprise to have a fashion magazine review clothes on the runway-but the tent on top of the runway?

Industry bible Women's Wear Daily gave a great review to the tent housing the fashion show for designer Donna Karan, calling it the "tent of the week" during September's New York Fashion Week in New York City.

P.J. McBride of West Babylon, N.Y., oversaw installation of the tent, a 50-by-150-foot clear-span from Evansville, Ind.-based Anchor Industries. The tent was anchored on a concrete block at the foot of Central Park. Busy 59th Street was closed to traffic so that guests could walk to Karan's new retail store after the fashion show.

The tent played host to some 500 people-including models, stylists and celebrities ranging from members of the New York Giants football team to pop star Boy George. Thanks to the clear-vinyl roof panel, guests "could see the city skyline," says Kevin McBride, P.J. McBride general manager.

Mother Nature threw a curve when Hurricane Floyd blew into town. "But things crop up, and you have to roll with the punches," McBride says. "The structure just sat on the street and held up extremely well."

IT'S COOL INSIDE The client's request for a constant temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit is not unreasonable-unless it's inside a 136,000-square-foot tent in the middle of August in Las Vegas.

Roder USA of Las Vegas and Aggreko Event Services of New Iberia, La., came up with a plan to install 30 air conditioners and 3,600 feet of ducting to cool down the massive tent, which housed more than 9,000 exhibits and spectators. A total of more than 3,000 tons of air conditioning kept things cool.

Roder brought in a crew of 25 tent, electrical and air-conditioning in-stallers for 12 straight days to complete the job. "We took on the impossible and made it look easy," says Roder account executive Rudy LeKar.

Sporting events and tents go hand in hand. And as sporting events grow more spectacular, so have the tents that serve them.

The 1999 Pan American Games, the largest sporting event ever held in Canada, brought athletes from 42 countries to competitions over 17 days in Winnipeg, Manitoba, from July 23 to Aug. 8.

Of more than 50 companies bidding for the business, Surrey, British Columbia-based Tentnology won the contract, which required the installation of 500 individual tents, including walls and lights, in 33 venues over sites spanning 12,000 square miles.

Pulling off the job required crews to put in 16-hour days at minimum during the 17-day installation. The weather committed foul play; "torrential rains and 50-mile-per-hour winds slowed down installation and delayed goods that were on the road for up to five days," notes Suzanne Warner, Tentnology's co-owner.

The three crew chiefs worked 50 days straight to make sure the project went smoothly; they were rewarded with two-week paid vacations and their own versions of "gold medals" for Best Tent Crew.

THINKING BIG What's the biggest tented event?

Several events lay claim to the title, and a valid contender is the one-day Bakersfield (Calif.) Business Conference, held in October. The 15th annual event sold out, drawing 12,500 guests to a field at California State University, Bakersfield, to hear speakers ranging from South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu to former United States President Gerald Ford to entertainer Bill Cosby.

The event's primary venue was a 200-by-740-foot clear-span tent. Manufactured by Los Angeles-based Canvas Specialty, the tent was held up by 32 trusses weighing 8,000 pounds each, 5,184 steel webs and nearly 11,000 bolts. The tent used 216,000 square feet of vinyl-coated polyester fabric. Besides the main tent, another 136 tents were set up on the 32-acre venue, including the media tent, "mayor's tent," and the business and information services tent. Burbank, Calif.-based Abbey Event Services installed all tents; the main tent alone took two weeks to install, notes Rene Martinez, general manager of Abbey's office in Rancho Dominguez, Calif.

In the conference's first year, "we had 250 people," recalls George Martin, managing partner in the Bakersfield-based law firm Borton, Petrini & Conron, sponsor of the conference. "It took us seven years to get to 12,500, where we've capped it." In its early days, the conference could accommodate its guests in a pole tent, which later grew to a 150-by-600-foot tent. But more attendees meant the need for greater size; thus the "200-by"-the nickname for the tremendous tent-made its debut in 1993.

The Netherlands may be a small country, but it has big ideas when it comes to tents. In a scant three weeks, a local production team designed and installed a 200-by-353-foot tent, its highest point at 86 feet.

The client was staging a series of celebrations for the first anniversary of its merger. For some 3,000 employees in Amsterdam, the company wanted "a party in a comfortable atmosphere, where every single guest would feel at home," says Irene de Boer, manager with De Boer International, based in Alkmaar, Netherlands.

The Dutch team-Endemol Pro-ductions, Maison van den Boer catering and De Boer-worked fast.

"The same day we got the event awarded to us, the plans were put to paper," de Boer says. "Within a week, we found a location for the mega-tent and all computer-aided design drawings were finished."

The tent itself was erected in only four days-"That's 17,650 square feet of tent installation and cassette flooring system a day," de Boer notes. It took six supervisors and 40 workers to pull off the job. Some 13 miles of steel wire ran through the roof. The striking roof was supported by 12 "king poles" set at 73-foot intervals to allow the best sight lines, she says.

"The client wanted an event that everybody would talk about long after," de Boer says. And the giant tent provided it: Once inside, guests visited a typical Amsterdam bar, danced at a Caribbean disco, relaxed in a flower garden and enjoyed live music performances.

Resources: Abbey Event Services, 818/569-3838; Academy Tent and Canvas, 323/277-8368; Aggreko Event Services, 800/443-2447; Anchor Industries, 812/867-2421; Atlas Copco Berema, 413/746-0020; Aztec Tents & Events, 310/328-5060; Canvas Specialty, 800/423-4082; Charles Banfield Productions, 310/659-5945; De Boer International, 31/72 540 04 44; Event Technical Services, 323/724-4848; P.J. McBride, 516/643-2848; Roder USA, 702/914-8028; The Stuart Rental Co., 408/734-9966; Tentnology, 604/597-8368; Wilson West, 415/392-8167

Although tent designers and manufacturers tell Special Events Magazine that they are not planning any major innovations next year, tent users can look forward to a few new features.

Evansville, Ind.-based Anchor Industries will offer a polycarbonate, highly rigid window wall. "It will look as though it is beveled," says advertising and marketing manager Mary Ann Mays. Prototypes of the new wall will be unveiled at The Special Event 2000, Jan. 12-15 in San Diego.

The job of driving in tent stakes should be a little easier with the Cobra TT, a compact, gas-powered tent-stake driver from Atlas Copco Berema of West Springfield, Mass. The machine is designed to drill in grass or asphalt, according to company president Peter Bigwood.

The biggest change may come from regulators. One tent industry expert believes that the industry will feel more pressure from local regulatory bodies to see engineering data on tents before they will issue permits.

"The industry is getting more sophisti-cated and more regulated," says Bill Bie, executive vice president of Aztec Tents & Events of Torrance, Calif. "As tent manufacturers, renters and installers, we must have fabric structures with valid wind- and snow-load data. So that means there will probably be more engineered tents, such as semi-permanent, clear-span structures."

A second trend: Tents will be built to go up faster than before-because they must. "It's driven by the nature of this business," Bie says. "Hourly people are more expensive, the minimum wage is going up, and good workers are hard to find." He also predicts the advent of more modular tents "so you can install them in big pieces."

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