The Knoxville Convention Center hosts all kinds of events – and thus its staff members have all kinds of stories, from saving a toppled wedding cake to handling a request to have acrobats fly in the ceiling of the ballroom.
Enjoy another blog edition of event planners doing what they do best – overcoming challenges and steering clients in the right direction.
Mary Bogert, general manager of the Knoxville Convention Center, and her staff are detailed planners who stay prepared to handle any situation. Surprisingly, the desire to swing people from the ceiling wasn’t a one-time request.
“We’ve had a couple of clients want to fly people,” Bogert said. “But they don’t know what it costs to actually do it. Sometimes, they’re under the impression it is as simple as hanging a truss.”
The original idea was to have the acrobats swing throughout the event – which might have made attendees a little batty. That is where planners must make recommendations that are in the best interests of all involved.
Jason Bourgoyne, director of event services and operations for the Convention Center, said the extensive rigging that would be needed – not to mention the insurance costs of covering flying humans – caused the client to abandon the idea of acrobats. Installing rigging and paying for acrobats became too pricey – though, technically, it could be done.
“They didn’t realize that it’s a lot of mechanical and very expensive equipment to do that safely,” Bogert said.
While safely hoisting humans would be a challenge, wedding cakes, of all things, sometimes can prove to be particularly problematic.
The Convention Center doesn’t make wedding cakes, but the facility is a venue for weddings and receptions and must handle them. Instructions for caterers are to deliver cakes relatively close to the time of the event, especially in the summer. But cakes occasionally arrive in the morning for an evening event and have to sit for hours. That is a recipe for cake slippage.
“They are very vulnerable,” Bogert said. “Wedding cakes can fall. We have had to rescue fallen cakes.”
Sometimes, repairs are relatively simple, and attendees never know the cake was retouched. That wasn’t the case for a four-tier cake that turned into the Leaning Tower of Pisa as the hours passed. As the cake sank, gaps were created in the icing and layers.
Bogert and her team first used cardboard to straighten the layers and then filled the gaps by plucking petals from the couple’s floral arrangements.
“We finished the cake with flower petals,” Bogert said.
The bride and groom were grateful for the repair because it meant they had a suitable cake to show in the wedding album.
“It’s all about not ruining the photo ops,” Bogert said.
The cake cutter was warned afterwards that the cake was cobbled together with cardboard and flower petals and adjusted before serving.
The Convention Center has saved weddings in other ways, too. For one event, the DJ hired by the bride and groom never arrived.
“We’re able to pick up the phone and call someone,” said Bogert, who added Rachel Ford at the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra has come through at the last minute to help the center arrange musical entertainment.
Bogert and her staff also have made last-minute shopping trips to ensure needed items were available at events.
In one case, the Convention Center was ready to host 1,400 people in a ballroom with iced tea on the tables. Lemons were ordered but didn’t arrive on the shipment. One lemon yields six wedges, so the Convention Center suddenly was short approximately 233 lemons. Staff members headed for the grocery stores.
“We bought every lemon you could find,” Bogert said.
At one sporting event, hot dogs sold like hotcakes. The center had plenty of hot dogs in stock already but ran low on buns during the event. Bogert went to a wholesale store and loaded a flatbed cart with buns but no hot dogs. The checkout attendant was confused and asked Bogert if she was forgetting something.
“I explained we had hot dogs but needed buns,” Bogert said.
Attendees got their buns and lemon wedges and never knew what happened behind the scenes.
“You do what you have to do,” Bogert said. “We will scramble to make sure the event goes as planned.”