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Special Events


THE GUESTS MAY coo at the chandeliers or swoon over the swags. But to many event professionals, the truly admirable accomplishment in a great tented event is how the event team got the tent there in the first place.

In our annual tent issue, Special Events Magazine gets the specifics on some very special tent installations.


Chicago's reputation as the “Windy City” carries plenty of weight — and that means tents must do the same.

The July wedding of Jim Horan, president of powerhouse caterer Blue Plate, and Jodi Fyfe, the firm's director of business development, featured a 40-by-180-foot Anchor New Century reception tent on a grassy area in the city's Millennium Park. But installation was no walk in the park: “The grass covers an underground parking structure that is protected by a membrane to keep the rain out, so we couldn't install anchors without the risk of ripping the membrane,” notes Bill Kidd, account executive with the Chicago office of HDO Productions. Instead, using a crew of 12 working two 10-hour days, HDO secured the tent with 46 white-vinyl-covered concrete weights, each weighing 4,000 pounds. City engineers had to approve the plan to put that much weight on the structure. HDO brought in the weights on flatbed trucks, uploaded them with forklifts, and then protected them with pads. The tent will stay up for Blue Plate client events.

Kidd is proud of the smooth installation and his success in protecting municipal greenery: “We leave things as we found them,” he explains.


Johannesburg, South Africa, played host to the world with the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development this summer. And Johannesburg-based Gearhouse SA put up a tent structure nearly big enough to house the world.

For Ubuntu Village, a combination transport hub and exhibition venue, Gearhouse set up Tensile 1, its 22,500-guest-capacity structure. The roughly 500-by-250-foot structure created more than 116,000 square feet of floor area.

A crew of 40 spent approximately 1,000 hours over a five-week period to install the 16-pole structure on two cricket practice fields. The crew drove pin anchors of between three and ten feet in length into the ground; a scaffolding system compensated for uneven terrain.

A wind meter on one of the 82-foot-tall poles constantly monitored wind gusts. As extra security, a crew member stayed on tent watch “24 hours a day, seven days a week,” notes Samantha Manclark, spokesperson for Gearhouse. If they had it all to do over again, the team would have installed an extra layer of boards on top of the scaffolding planks to prevent carpet tiles from shifting on the slightly uneven surface, Manclark notes.

At the end of its three-week run, the crew dismantled Tensile 1 in 600 hours.


How can out-of-town guests enjoy comfortable accommodations when a town has no hotel rooms to spare? For international structure firm De Boer, the answer was simple: Build a temporary hotel.

For the “24 Hours at Le Mans” auto race, held in Le Mans, France, in June, De Boer created hospitality venues including viewing and entertainment areas for automakers Audi AG and Bentley, and even a 330-bedroom hotel for MG Rover. The Audi projects included a 6,500-square-foot Delta structure with interior mezzanine and lounge plus an open courtyard with a pond, and the debut of the 2,500-square-foot Delta Double Decker, serving as the press center. For MG Rover, the nearly 8,000-square-foot Alu Hall clear-span structure included full bedrooms and bathrooms, while the 4,500-square-foot Double Decker structure with a Chalet structure entrance offered raised terraces and a nightclub. All told, the structures were installed in four weeks and dismantled in less than three weeks using a team of 10 De Boer technicians and 15 local crew working seven days a week. All environments carried each client's branding message in decor.

De Boer's elaborate project just received a Gala Award nomination from Special Events Magazine.


Another Gala-nominated installation celebrated the November 2001 opening of Copia — the American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts in Napa, Calif.

To serve the 20,000 guests who showed up for the two-day event, St. Helena, Calif.-based Napa Valley Party Services installed 94 tents — for everything from dining to food demonstrations to first-aid stations — covering more than 30,350 square feet in three different locations.

Tight teamwork enabled the 11-man crew to install 69 10-by-10-foot festival tents (used by 130 exhibiting wineries) along a busy public street that was closed for only three hours for the install. To pull off this feat, one crew spread out poles and hardware early that morning before traffic grew heavy, enabling setup to run smoothly.

A strong backbone enabled the crew to go ahead and install a 40-by-70-foot frame tent right on top of three cars that had parked illegally on the VIP tent site. “We installed the tent while police located the drivers,” says Napa Valley tenting and logistics manager Phil Jenkins. “We left off the sidewall until the last car was removed, without affecting the event timeline.”

Strike brought a new challenge: Originally the crew was to have the full day after the event to dismantle the tents, but Copia management decided to open for business that day. To serve the client, the crew set up portable light towers at the end of the event and set to work at 7 p.m. dismantling more than 18,000 square feet of tenting and all hard equipment under the tents; the job was done by 2 a.m.


For an installation at Philadelphia's historic Memorial Hall, Pipersville, Pa.-based Celebration Rentals took on the role of museum conservator.

For “Scantastic 2002,” a charity fund-raiser for more than 1,500 guests held each April, Celebration faced the challenge of installing more than 23,000 additional feet of tented space outside Memorial Hall on a surface including four levels of historic marble steps, lawns and paved paths. To pull it off, the team won permission from the city to install anchors in the cracks of the marble steps and to clean out and redrill old, rusted cinches. A combination of ropes, stakes, ratchets and even rock-climbing equipment enabled the team to install the main tent, a 60-by-240-foot twin peaked pole tent from Eureka, connected to 13 additional tents and marquees from Academy Tent and Canvas. Installation took the 14-man crew eight hours the first day (to erect the tents) and four the second (to install gutters and hang sidewalls).

A half hour before the event, a thunderstorm swept the site with rain and wind for an hour. Celebration's contingency plan had included having extra walls on hand, and two tent attendants checked to make sure gutters worked properly and all tent walls were secure. “The client and many guests complimented us on how well the tents held up,” notes Celebration sales manager David Buckley, CSEP. Special Events Magazine's Gala Awards judges have been complimentary, too, giving the event a Gala nomination.


Blue Plate, 312/421-6666; Celebration Rentals, 215/766-2700; De Boer Structures, 770/792-1085; Gearhouse SA, +27 11 624 2904; HDO Productions, 847/564-1700; Napa Valley Party Services, 707/638-2001

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