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Richmond, Calif.-based Top Productions started with just grass and asphalt. Over the course of two weeks, Top added nearly 300 tents to create the Sausalito (Calif.) Art Festival, where 45,000 art lovers gathered just north of San Francisco over Labor Day weekend to view the work of 270 artists. The event has received a Gala Award nomination from Special Events Magazine.

The army of tents transformed a local park and adjacent parking lot into 300 artists' display spaces, along with nearly 40 food booths. “Half the event takes place on city park property, the other half takes place on U.S. Army Corps property,” notes Top Productions' Peter Daly. “Permits from both jurisdictions are required, as well as safety walk-throughs with both agencies.” Installation took a 12-man crew 10 days; tear-down took three days. Staking techniques ranged from stakes and water barrels to 4,000-pound cement blocks

The largest tent was the 82-by-132-foot semi-permanent structure used for the pre-event black-tie gala for 400 guests. “When the gala ends at midnight [Friday], our crew comes in to drop 10,000 square feet of tenting, dismantles tables, chairs, lighting, electrical heating and decor in just four hours — in the nick of time for the festival to open at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning,” Daly notes. “We have done this ‘middle of the night’ shuffle year after year, and it even amazes us when we pull it off!”


The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra League's May gala — Symphony on Safari — faced the challenge of displaying exotic animals in the party tent, including caracals, servals and a lion. It also featured a challenging tent installation.

The event site was Harbor Island, a peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan. With the nearest main thoroughfare two miles from the site, the crew from Milwaukee-based Karl's Event Rental had to hand-carry all equipment from the service roadway as far as 200 yards in order to install more than 22,000 square feet of tenting — a task that took more than 300 man-hours. The tents — including the 82-by-214-foot clear-span event tent, a 40-by-60-foot pole tent for catering, plus additional tenting for rest rooms and coat check — were installed on grass and bedrock. “Due to the event site being on a peninsula, the grass was fully saturated with water through to the bedrock,” notes Karl's Noreen Engberg.

The 400 guests stayed safe and dry during cocktails, dinner and a silent auction despite severe thunderstorms and 50-mph winds.


The Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh gala in October raised more than $7 million, largely because Stoney Creek, Ontario-based based Regal Tent Productions was able to raise some 37,000 square feet of tenting within tight restrictions.

City fathers had decreed that event installations at Pittsburgh's Point State Park can never block the view of the park's fountain, so “we had to be very creative,” notes event producer Shelly Tolo of Tolo Events, Wexford, Pa. “We measured off that space I can't tell you how many times.”

A crew of 11 men worked through the rain for five and a half 12-hour days to install the tents — a 80-by-130-foot white clear-span housing the cocktail area and a 100-by-180-foot clear-span with clear top and walls for the dining area. Additional canopies created a walkway between the major tents for the 1,100 guests. The cocktail tent was divided into four themed areas via draping, lighting and gobos. Regal used its heavy 334 profile frame — usually used only for its 165-foot tent — in the dining tent to allow for maximum loads.

The clear dining tent afforded an “incredible view” of the city's skyline, its famous three rivers, and the fountain — which, Tolo notes “broke down two weeks before the event!”


With an event as big as the centennial of flight — and the big-time sponsors backing the celebration — Atlanta-based DeBoer Vinings had to come up with some big sponsor pavilions. DeBoer installed some 50,000 square feet of tenting, the centerpiece of which was three of its “Delta” structures. Each Delta structure created 10,000-plus-square-foot pavilions for the two-week celebration in a Dayton, Ohio, park in July. The installation has been nominated for a Gala Award.

To enable their side panels to slide in, the structures require a site that is 100-percent level, but “of course, that is never the case,” notes DeBoer's Norah deBekker. To solve the problem, the crew laser-leveled the site and installed a three-tier system of leveling devices to secure the structures.

Another hurdle was the new Dayton building code, which requires that all tents and structures of more than 3,000 square feet meet the stringent “one in 100 years” storm regulation. The DeBoer structures meet the code, so when 70-mph winds hit Dayton during the first week of the event, “everyone came running for shelter — straight to the Delta,” DeBekker says.


When Chicago-based Blue Plate Events turned 20 this summer, the company threw its own gala for loyal clients and vendors, complete with top-notch tenting.

Blue Plate relied on Chicago's HDO Productions' crew of 12 working two 10-hour days to install nearly 14,000 square feet of tenting, comprising a 100-by-100-foot main tent, a 40-by-40-foot kitchen tent, and three tents to connect the main tent to Blue Plate's office building. The three connecting tents had only a 3½-hour installation window before the guests arrived. “This was the biggest time-crunch challenge, because once those tents were up, we had to hang photos depicting past events and momentous occasions in Blue Plate's history,” notes Blue Plate's Ami Franklin.

Technical snafus tried to crash the party, as the air conditioning failed several times during the hot August night. But, Franklin says, the fun won out, thanks to “plenty of cold drinks, great food, fabulous music and old friends who didn't mind sweating a little for a fun evening!”


Blue Plate Events, 312/421-6666; DeBoer Vinings, 770/ 333-1886; Karl's Event Rental, 414/831-7069; Regal Tent Productions, 905/664-6173; Tolo Events, 412/389-7195; Top Productions, 510/965-1091

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