The nearly limitless potential of an unused warehouse or an open loft can spark an event host’s creativity, but the flip side to that freedom is that raw space can demand much more in terms of logistics, from permitting to scheduling to laying out the space. Above and beyond the usual rundown event and meeting professionals would ask a venue before signing a contract, insiders say there are a number of specific, sometimes surprising questions that need to be asked when it comes to taking over raw space for an event.
1. Are you legally allowed to have events?
It sounds like a no-brainer, but it is a question planners need to ask when considering raw space. “Many raw spaces are not licensed to host events, so the first thing is to ask to see an occupancy certificate and what licenses they have,” says Sean Cannon, owner and C.E.O. of Event Creative in Chicago. “There are too many raw spaces that just decide to rent out for events,” he says, without bothering to verify the legality first.
2. What permits will we need?
Permitting is a topic that should be brought up regardless of where an event is being held, but raw space might have special requirements or considerations. If organizers are running a generator for auxiliary power or need to valet cars from the street, for example, they might need specific permits for those activities. Likewise, “Ask if their loading space requires street closure permits for load in and load out,” says Jeremy Nichols, executive producer at Sonoma, California-based Pix Productions.
3. Will we need to bring a generator?
If the event requires running catering, lights, audiovisual, and production equipment, the power capacity in a raw space might need a boost. “Ask how many dedicated 20-amp circuits they have,” says Merryl Brown, president of Merryl Brown Events in Carpinteria, California. Organizers should find out if there are any disconnects—switches that shut down individual circuits—available in the space, she suggests; while “plug and play” venues have these, raw spaces often don’t, Brown says.
4. If so, where will the generator go?
If the space’s power needs aren’t adequate and a generator is being brought in, planners should find out where they’re allowed to put it (and if it requires a permit). “If it’s in a raw space you may not be able to help it being in earshot of your event,” says Corrine Statia, president of Absolute Events By Corrine in Jersey City, New Jersey. “It’s not always an optimal situation.”
5. What kind of elevator access is there, and is that included in the price?
“If it’s a freight elevator, ask if access is included in the price or if you have to pay extra because it belongs to the building,” says Michael Tardi, C.E.O. of MMEink, an event management company based in New York and California. Tardi also suggests organizers go over exactly what kind of equipment they plan to bring in to ensure that it will fit in the elevator. (Oversize lighting trestles, for instance, might not.) If a freight elevator is shared by other tenants in the building where the raw space is, hosts might be required to list the entire building rather than just the space itself on their insurance, Tardi says.
6. Where and when can we load and unload equipment, and will we require overnight security?
Many spaces have only a single freight elevator, and the event team might have to share that with other tenants or businesses in the building, Statia says. To avoid having a “traffic jam” with vendors, planners should make sure everyone has a separate, specific time slot for loading and unloading—and don’t expect it to all be the same day, she warns, especially if the elevator is a shared space. “There’s a lot more time needed. If you’re in a raw space everything has to come in, rental companies don’t deliver on the morning of your event,” she says. In all likelihood, Statia adds, organizers will need to either supply their own or pay for security services supplied by the vendor to keep everything secure overnight.
7. Can I put tape on the floor?
Whether wires and cords running across the floor need to be secured to give the crew a guide of what goes where, tape is indispensable. But it might not be allowed, Tardi warns. “Some of the modern raw spaces don’t let you use tape on the floor anymore because it pulls up their finish,” he says.
8. What do you have by way of climate control?
“Ask what they do for HVAC,” Nichols says. If heating and cooling infrastructure is minimal or nonexistent, planners should ask if they can bring in gas heaters or swamp coolers, he advises.
9. What kind of kitchen facilities are there?
It’s a good idea to work with a caterer who has experience working with raw spaces, because they’ll have to bring in everything from stove tops to spoons. “Ask if there’s a kitchen facility, and if it has hot and cold running water,” Brown says. If the space is open and loftlike, hosts might need also to factor in the time and expense to cordon off a makeshift kitchen area with screens or pipe and drape. “Ask where you need to take garbage and recycling,” Brown adds, and find out if that will incur an additional fee.
10. What kind of restroom facilities are there?
Don’t expect it to be like a conference center or banquet facility. “They’re very limited,” Tardi says. “You’re not going to find a large number, and it’s usually a coed bathroom,” he says. Organizers can expect maybe four or five units in a typical raw space, he says. Like everything else, if planners need more, they’ll have to bring them in.