After Hurricane Sandy, New York Venues and Vendors Focus on Moving Forward

By Anna Sekula November 7, 2012, 5:47 PM EST

In an email newsletter sent out last Friday, Galapagos Art Space showed the flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy. Over four days, more than 80 volunteers helped restore the Dumbo venue, which will play host to a November 14 fund-raiser to benefit the neighborhood businesses affected by the storm.

Photo: Courtesy of Galapagos Art Space

After Hurricane Sandy knocked out power, flooded entire neighborhoods, and pummeled the region with winds of as much as 80 miles per hour, New York's event and meeting sector was left scrambling in the early part of last week. Venues and vendors faced last-minute cancellations, water damage, electrical outages, and transportation delays to deliveries, while the city struggled to restore its infrastructure. This week, while some area residents are still dealing with the loss of property and power, most of the industry is back on track, with just a few still unable to resume operations.

Venues in neighborhoods including the financial district, west Chelsea, and Dumbo faced the biggest challenges. Downtown, the Glazier Group's 27,000-square-foot South Street Seaport venue Bridgewaters is still without power, and hotels including the Ritz-Carlton Battery Park, W Downtown, and Andaz Wall Street remain closed. The closures are expected to be temporary, with the properties looking to reopen later this week and over the weekend, depending on when heat will come back on and supply deliveries can be made.

Conversely, the Conrad New York, which evacuated the Sunday before the storm, reopened October 31, and Cipriani Wall Street was operational Sunday and being readied for Wednesday night's Enterprise Community Partners gala.

In west Chelsea, water washed into most of the neighborhood's art organizations, including the lobby of Center548 on West 22nd Street. Although the event space was undamaged, the venue's president, Dan Kobin, said last week the floors were filled with art from three galleries that were drying out and being cataloged for damage. Similarly, the Glasshouses at the Chelsea Arts Tower escaped unscathed, but as the building's lobby and basement were submerged in water, the site isn't available for events yet; management expects to be up and running by Monday.

Perhaps one of the biggest blows was dealt to Hudson River-adjacent Chelsea Piers, where the tidal surge flooded the complex with water as high as five feet in some spaces. The Abigail Kirsch-operated Pier Sixty and the Lighthouse suffered, too, as seawater made its way into the ballrooms. “We had a lot of water damage, so we're replacing floors and carpeting, and making repairs to equipment,” said Abigail Kirsch C.E.O. Jim Kirsch. “We don't have an exact date, but we expect to be operating in a few weeks' time. We just don't know when exactly that is yet.”

Another waterfront site, Pier 57, also sustained damage, although it was, according to Kage Konsulting's Karrie Goldberg, who handles event bookings at the venue, minimal. Goldberg added that the facility should be restored within the next 10 days.

On the East River, Hurricane Sandy also wreaked havoc on spaces on Brooklyn's waterfront, including Galapagos Art Space, Smack Mellon, and Powerhouse Arena. To help the businesses rebuild, the Dumbo Improvement District is hosting a fund-raiser and auction on November 14, a date that was moved back a week as a result of the impending nor'easter.

As current charity efforts focus on victims of the storm, some producers are seeing their clients postpone or cancel their own benefits this month and next, believing, as the producers of the ING New York City Marathon eventually did, that it would be inappropriate to divert attention away Sandy-related relief. “Many of our clients looked to the marathon as a gauge for how to handle their own events,” said John Harenda, the director of operations for Union Square Events. “Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see how Sandy will affect decisions being made for the remainder of this year and how resources might be put towards outreach and recovery for their own team members and communities that were affected by the storm.”

That's not to say companies weren't busy with plenty of events immediately after the storm hit. Caterers Creative Edge Parties and Great Performances both relocated uptown after their downtown offices lost power. Great Performances took up temporary residence in the Plaza, where it operates several event spaces in partnership with Delaware North Companies, while Creative Edge set up a remote kitchen at the venue Skylight West. As of Monday, both catering companies had returned to their headquarters.

“It was a very difficult week for sure. What was really hardest for us was the uncertainty. Not knowing when we would be back in our offices and having parties to cook for, we had to think quickly,” said Creative Edge president and owner Carla Ruben, who added that she first reserved equipment with Party Rental before finding a spot for a makeshift kitchen.

Others impacted were outfits with large rental pieces to transport and warehouses in New Jersey and Brooklyn, which spent last week revising timelines, ensuring trucks had gas, and working from generators. For firms with clients outside the storm's path, delivering on deadlines became an obstacle. Alpine Creative Group's Steve Paster said his printing shop near the United Nations was “destroyed,” and the biggest complication was shipping and delivering the company's custom invitations and printed products for events in other major markets, including Los Angeles and Miami.

“Particularly in L.A., we were frustrated by the fact that not only couldn't we produce the menus and escort cards needed for an event, but because we had no electricity—our server was down—so we couldn't even email the design file to a local L.A. printer,” Paster said. “I hated to disappoint my client, but they were very understanding.”

With such issues, not to mention bookings lost from cancellations, Sandy's residual effects on revenue and confidence are a concern, especially for an industry largely comprised of small businesses. The situation also presents something of a conundrum, with venues and vendors looking to spread the message that the city's event and meeting sector is back on its feet, while also conveying that some companies were hurt financially.

Although few were willing to openly comment on the economic repercussions, there were those that believed the storm wouldn't have a long-term impact on the industry as a whole. “I think New Yorkers and people that live in this area are incredibly resilient, and I think it gets people jittery, but everyone wants to get back to work,” said Kirsch. “I don't think it's going to scare anybody from anything. I've been talking to my competitors in the past few days, and in the near term, we're always watchful of how people will react, but we don't expect any hangover from this.”

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