If you’re guessing that the floodgates opened on May 13 when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated people no longer were required to wear masks outdoors and in most indoor settings, you are correct.
What President Joe Biden declared as a “Great day for America” already is proving to be a bonanza for event venues throughout the metro area. Six Colorado counties – Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver and Jefferson – are designated Level Clear, giving such popular locations as the Cable Center, The Hangar at Stanley Marketplace and the McNichols Civic Center Building the option to operate at 100 percent capacity with no facial coverings required.
“Bookings are coming in fast and furious,” said an elated Larry DiPasquale, founder and chairman of Epicurean Catering Group. “Our sales team is working overtime.”
Stephanie Helzer, director of sales and marketing for Mile High Station and Ironworks, advised: “If you are going to do an event, now is the time to book it (because) 2022 is on fire.”
“We’re trying to cram 12 months of business into (the remaining) six,” added Andrew Feinstein, owner of the 14,000-square-foot EXDO Event Center in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood. EXDO can host up to 3,500 people for events that include charity fundraisers, trade shows, product launches, fashion shows, concerts and weddings.
Founded in 1982, Epicurean Catering Group is the exclusive caterer at such venues as Empower Field at Mile High and Seawell Ballroom in the Denver Performing Arts Complex . The company also operates Mangia Bevi Café, a breakfast and lunch spot next to Fiddlers Green that also hosts special events, and Bella Cucina Giardino, an intimate outdoor venue bearing a strong resemblance to an Italian pizza garden, on the grounds of ECG headquarters in Centennial.
“For 65 weeks we were hit pretty hard,” DiPasquale admitted, “but we used that time to make some nice upgrades, especially at Bella Cucina Giardino, which is very a very popular spot for small graduation, engagement and anniversary parties.”
Like DiPasquale, Feinstein used 2020’s down time — “We shut our doors for four months” — to update EXDO’s sound and lighting technology and upgrade the mezzanine and green room. In an effort to stay afloat during “our worst year ever,” Feinstein used the summer months to turn EXDO’s parking lot into an outdoor venue where people could gather for cocktails and dinners ordered from neighborhood restaurants.
Chris Manos, the senior operations manager for events at Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum, said that while the facility was “pretty much shut down” for much of the pandemic, his team members remained employed by pitching in to “spruce things up” and reconfigure the 55,400-square-foot hangar to better accommodate small-group events.
For the Arvada West High School prom, for example, Manos scheduled two sessions of two hours each to give students the full prom experience while not violating COVID protocols that were still in place. A whiskey tasting that in pre-pandemic times attracted what Manos described as “a huge crowd,” also was broken down into two-hour blocks with 175 guests at each.
Reservations for winter holiday parties and for events taking place after the first of the year are strong, Manos said, adding that since the closure of the Denver Merchandise Mart, he is receiving more inquiries for trade show-type bookings.
Other venues switched things up a bit.
The 10,000-square-foot Seawell Ballroom at the DCPA, with its state-of-the-art lighting, theatrical-grade sound system and technical support, became the setting for numerous virtual events, giving guests participating in the Zoom sessions the feeling of being in an actual ballroom.
Sarah Weiss, event manager at Novel Coworking/Roof 16, “Worked tirelessly to bring co-working and rooftop events to a new level in Denver,” said Dawn Williams, founder and chief experience officer for VenuHub.com.
VenuHub.com is an online search platform designed to make it easier for clients to find and book the location that best suits their needs from the 130-plus vetted, hand-selected, inclusive and available venues across Colorado that participate in the site.
Special event bookings at Denver Botanic Gardens also crashed, thanks to the pandemic.
“In 2020 we were at 30% of our normal quantity of bookings,” said Joshua Riggs, associate director of private events. Today, the popular site for weddings, engagement parties, corporate and association meetings and fundraising events hosted by nonprofit organizations is booked solid on prime Saturday and Sunday dates.
Still, with so many unknowns relating to the spread of COVID-19, clients and DBG staffers are reluctant to take chances. “We’re lucky because we’re primarily an outdoor venue where guests feel more comfortable,” Riggs added, “But everything is being reimagined.”
For example: The 37th Fete des Fleurs, the gardens’ signature fundraiser, will have staggered admission for the 500-plus guests, starting at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 27. Once inside, it’s off to a “traveling cocktail hour” with music, beverages and food set out in various themed gardens — the Bill Hosokawa Bonsai Pavilion, Le Potager and the South African Plaza among them — that dot the 24-acre campus at 1007 York St.
Pre-pandemic, all guests would have adjourned to an elaborately decorated tent at the top of the UMB Amphitheater for a multi-course, sit-down dinner. This year the price of the ticket determines seating and menu. The $30,000 Conservatory Presenting Sponsor guests, 20 in all, will have a sit-down, plated dinner in the solarium or on the deck of the Hive Garden Bistro; The $1,000 Bluegrass Sponsor level guests will have a picnic supper on the amphitheater grass.
Looking back on 2020’s smoldering ruins, VenuHub.com’s Williams marveled at the resilience of her colleagues in the hospitality industry.
“What’s remarkable is how venue managers have all stuck together and gotten creative — or really hustled and pivoted like crazy — to provide jobs and unique experiences to keep their teams in place.”