Tent rental companies confront challenges—and reap rewards—when they say yes to complex installations.
by Pamela Mills-Senn
In the tent rental industry, a willingness to tackle tough installations requires steely nerves, can-do attitudes, experienced and talented crews and lots of planning. But when it all comes together, challenging projects bring a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, and they enhance a company’s reputation, delivering new opportunities and respect. From uncooperative weather and time constraints to large crowds and pandemic complications, here are three companies and their installations that defied the odds.
The challenges: Grass field, elaborate decor, metal detectors
It wasn’t exactly a case of “get off my lawn,” but the June 2019 installation Loane Bros. Inc. undertook on the Sagamore Farm, an American Thoroughbred horse farm in Baltimore County, Md., came close. Headquartered in Baltimore, the family-owned and operated Loane Bros. has served the area for six generations, says Bryan Loane, president.
The installation was for a private wedding reception, with the main structure being a 50-by-120-foot Navi-Trac® tent by Anchor Industries Inc. Multiple smaller tents were set up in other areas of the farm, such as those for catering, a guest games day, a misting tent, one for dispensing party favors and a DJ tent.
What made this particular project challenging was the size of the reception tent and its placement on an all-grass practice field used by the Baltimore Ravens, Loane says.
“We were allowed to use this location as long as we guaranteed that the grass would be perfect after the wedding,” he recalls. “This was a big challenge, as a ton of equipment needed to be delivered across the field to the tent site—not only the tent, but generators, furniture and restroom trailers, and then all the catering and decor items.”
The installation was set to take place within a four-day window, which required tight coordinating with the wedding planner for all the deliveries. Compounding the demands was the tent’s elaborate interior. For example, the decorator wanted to hang custom-made boxes with florals and electric lights over certain tables and wanted to place chandeliers in specific spots, all without exposed rigging.
“So we had to plan where everything went exactly and had to plan how the cables and electric lines would pass through the custom ivory ceiling liner without pulling the fabric, which would distort its shape,” says Loane.
The tent was also going to have a subfloor with a wood-paneled surface designed to go over wooden stringers. However, because Loane knew this style could damage the lawn, he opted to build the subfloor out of Dura-Track™; experience had taught him this could stay down as long as four days without noticeably affecting the grass.
The main tent went up on the grass on the Tuesday before the wedding; the rigging from the frame and the liner was installed the next day. Flooring went in on Thursday, not just for the main tent but also for the catering, restroom and three vendor tents. Loane Bros. also had to create roadways (using truck mats) for the various deliveries, keeping the mats down just a few hours at a time. On average 10 to 15 crew members were on-site each day.
“We had to reroute the delivery roadways each time, not to create an impression in the lawn, as well as not to mat down the grass any more than necessary,” Loane says. “We also built a custom stairway over a slope for guests to enter the reception tent.”
The event (which went perfectly, says Loane) was held Saturday evening, and by Sunday morning everything was removed. But the challenges didn’t stop. Crew members had to run metal detectors and magnets over all tent sites to ensure no bolts or screws remained that could injure players or racehorses.
As for the lawn?
“It looked like nothing had ever happened on it, other than playing football,” he says. “The farm managers were really pleased and the clients and the coordinator, the designer and even the caterer were really happy with what we provided.”
How does Loane Bros. manage tough installations? “Plan, plan, plan,” says Loane. “And charge accordingly. Every job has its own complexities, and some are far more challenging than they look.”
The challenges: Site restrictions, time constraints, pandemic
The requirements for some installations appear so onerous it would seem the sanest response would be a polite “thanks but no thanks” to the offer. Consider Key Manufacturing & Rentals Inc. Headquartered in Tualatin, Ore., the company manufactures and rents equipment to the special event industry, primarily in the Northwestern U.S. On Jan. 2, 2020, a call for a proposal came in from Hoffman Construction Co. in Portland about a project at Hayward Field, a historic track and field stadium located at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Key Manufacturing submitted a bid and got the job, subcontracting for Hoffman, says Annie Chisholm, a salesperson for the company.
“Our specific purpose was to provide a dry, climate-controlled environment so a new track surface could be applied,” she explains. “The track surfacing was planned to take 14 days to complete, and when completed, the track and stadium would be a world-class facility, ready to host the Olympic trials and world championships.”
The task before Key Manufacturing was monumental. The original request was for approximately 78,000 square feet of structures intended to cover the track surface. However, after installation began, the company was asked to provide covers for the infield surfaces, including the long jump, pole vault runways and high jump, which were getting the same surface application as the track. This added 22,000 square feet of structures and canopies to the original installation, as well as lighting for all of them.
“We started installation on Jan. 24, laying out baseplates so we could determine any special lengths, widths of the structure bays,” says Chisholm. Some bays needed to be 7 feet, 9 inches to 11 feet instead of the standard meters. Widths ranged from standard 15m, 20m and 25m to some special 64-foot, 2-inch arches. Many of the exterior legs were set in the grandstands and varied in length from 10 feet to 18 feet. Infield legs were standard 8 feet and 10 feet with some special legs at 16 feet. (The clearspan structures were European-style box beam, which the company has manufactured since 1989.)
“Ballasting was also required on all interior legs, and access to the infield
was limited due to irrigation lines,” Chisholm continues. “Most arches and ballast needed to be set with cranes and boom lifts because we couldn’t be on the track surface, so we needed to coordinate using the cranes to set our arches in between the stadium construction.”
The fact that this was an active construction site posed additional challenges, since there were restrictions that limited access to certain areas at times. To mitigate any delays or complications, the company devised an “aggressive schedule,” which also factored in that work could only take place between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., Monday through Friday (no weekend work was allowed).
Time constraints became an issue when it came to the pie-shaped pieces required to connect the structure, says Chisholm, explaining that the company wasn’t able to manufacture these parts as quickly as needed. Chris Butler (the on-site superintendent) of Safway Scaffolding in Eugene came to the rescue.
“He and his crew worked simultaneously with our crew using Eagle shrink-wrap material glued to our rafters and heat shrunk the material to provide
a tight connect,” she explains.
Additionally, the site was closely monitored to ensure Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compliance. Key Manufacturing employees had to be cleared to work on the site in advance, undergoing thorough background checks, drug testing and mandatory attendance at safety classes.
And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, adding the complication of protective gear like masks and gloves, along with social distancing.
“We laid out a solid schedule and made sure we had our most experienced crew on-site,” she says. “We put them up in a hotel just two blocks from the jobsite to make transport to and from easier, and we had lunches catered into the site each day so the crew didn’t waste any time during lunch breaks.”
By Feb. 28, the eight-person crew completed the installation. Both the setup and the removal were completed two days ahead of schedule and under budget. Budget-wise, this was by far the company’s largest—and most complicated—single project, says Chisholm.
How does Key Manufacturing manage tough installations? “You need to put your company and crews in a position where they can succeed,” says Chisholm. “This means choosing a team that has proven capable of doing the work being required. And it begins with understanding the client’s expectations, accessing the feasibility of the work and then making sure you can successfully complete the work to the expectations.”
The challenges: Times Square crowds, rain, last-minute changes
Over the past 35 years, Ace Party & Tent Rental has pretty much seen it all. Located in Flushing, N.Y., the full-service tent and event rental provider specializes in corporate, education, commercial and high-end social events. But even for a company with this extensive and varied experience, an installation for the May 2, 2019, premiere of the Warner Bros. film Pokémon Detective Pikachu is likely one for the books.
It’s not as if the company hadn’t done movie premiere tenting before; it’s done lots. But this one—scheduled to begin the evening of May 1—was going up right in the middle of Times Square, a location where the foot traffic is heavy and constant, 24 hours a day.
“Times Square is in the heart of Midtown Manhattan and is one of the busiest pedestrian areas in the world,” says John Clarke, company president. “So we were concerned if there would be issues with pedestrians walking through the jobsite.”
Another major concern was that the client—a production company located in California—had never been to the site before the day of the installation. “They had only seen the site through Google Earth images,” Clarke says.
And in fact, when the clients did the first site inspection that May 1 morning, they requested a design change, deciding they wanted part of the main tent placed at an angle.
The job consisted of a customized, 30-by-155-foot Navi-Trac tent sprawled over a one-block plaza in the Square, along with four smaller production tents, ranging in sizes from 10-by-60-foot to 20-by-20-foot. A 12-person crew was tasked with completing the entire installation overnight within a four-hour time frame (11 p.m. to 3 a.m.). To make things even more exciting, it was “pouring rain” during the entire installation, Clarke says.
“We brought in crowd control barricades and had staff on hand to keep the pedestrians away from the install for their own safety,” Clarke says. “The job turned out great. We met our timeline just in time for the audiovisual team from California to start their part at 3 a.m.” The audiovisual team and other vendors had to wrap up their tasks by 9 a.m. for the producer’s final walk-through and press setup.
Not even the aforementioned last-minute design modification threw the team.
“We called our warehouse and had our in-house team quickly create a custom fabric piece to fit the angle/diagonal install,” Clarke recalls. “Luckily, since it was early enough in the day, there was still plenty of time for our in-house fabric department to make the custom piece, which took about six hours.”
How does Ace Party & Tent Rental manage tough installations? Over the years team members have learned to “plan for the unexpected,” says Clarke. They hold operational meetings where they plot out projects in detail. For example, for this project they painstakingly choreographed the load-in/load-out processes since most of the vehicles involved could not remain in the area.
Pamela Mills-Senn is a Seal Beach, Calif.-based writer.