CHICAGO—In the days leading up to the outdoor Lincoln Park Zoo Ball, all eyes were on the weather. Like much of the country, the Chicago area had been plagued with some extreme weather, including tornado warnings, before the July 14 event. Planners quickly put a rain plan in place.
“With all the wild weather we’d been having, we’d been keeping an eye on the forecast for days,” says Elizabeth Janicki Smith, manager of development events at Lincoln Park Zoo. “A few days out from the event, we had to make our rain-plan call with our tent company, PRO EM.”
The plan involved moving the dance floor out of the dinner tent and into its own tent, and bringing in additional tenting to cover both sides of the Pepper Family Wildlife Center. The team also arranged for marquee tenting, and additional tenting to cover a new Jeep activation.
“Those areas were initially all open-air, so the extra tenting provided more coverage for our guests,” Janicki Smith says. “In retrospect, we were all really glad we went through with that.”
The planning crew also met with the operations team before the event. “We went over the processes and the parameters, and what to be looking out for in the case of inclement weather,” Janicki Smith says. “Luckily, that allowed us to pivot when we did have an unfortunate swell of strong winds, lightning, thunder, and rain.”
That severe weather started around 10 p.m., just as dinner (which began at 8 p.m.) was wrapping up. The dinner program included a paddle raise, which contributed to the gala’s approximately $1.6 million take.
“We’re so grateful that the weather held off until dinner was done,” Janicki Smith remarks. “It would have been super tricky to figure out how to serve dinner to [more than 800] guests without the tent.”
Had the rain held off, guests would have headed to the dancing tent for live music from the Don Cagen Orchestra after dinner. But when strong winds started to blow rain sideways into the tents, planners asked the crowd to head into the lion house while they worked out a plan.
“We weren’t quite sure at that juncture how the rain would affect the [band’s] audiovisual and electrical components and wiring,” Janicki Smith says.
While guests trickled into the lion house, the planning team consulted with key members of the operations team. Janicki Smith also checked in with her vendors to assess the status of their equipment.
“Ultimately, seeing how soaked everything was and how long it would take to get things back up and running, we decided that the best option was to keep the party at the lion house” and forgo the live music, Janicki Smith says.
This, she reports, is when the vendors went into “quick thinking” and “pivoting” mode. The catering team from Blue Plate brought more beverages into the lion house and set up two bars; they also passed late-night bites. Frost had some music piped into the space, and mobile bidding vendor One Cause helped the zoo update guests.
“We have a series of text blasts that go out when people register [for the silent auction,]” says Janicki Smith. “Throughout the evening, they’ll get updates about the auction, like: It’s closing in 30 minutes, make sure to bid!”
But when the severe weather went into effect, zoo staffers worked with One Cause to draft a different kind of text. “We sent out a message saying: 'The party is now moving into the lion house,'” Janicki Smith shares. “'Please enjoy beverages, late-night bites, and some music.' And people stayed! People had a great time and really made lemonade out of lemons.”
Keep scrolling to see key vendors and more from inside the Lincoln Park Zoo Ball...
Decor & Florals: Vince Hart Designs
Catering: Blue Plate
Music: Don Cagen Orchestra
Photography: John Reilly and Kyle Flubacker
Tenting: PRO EM
Audiovisual & Lighting: Frost Chicago
Mobile Bidding: One Cause