Large festivals rarely happen without any hiccups.
This was true Saturday for the Mid-MO PrideFest, which was forced to delay opening its gates by an hour due to a permit concern from the Columbia Fire Department.
While the fire department received advance plans from PrideFest, the department did not have the required documentation from organizers for an inflatable pavilion tent that was set up at the site, interim Fire Chief Clayton Farr Jr. told the Tribune on Monday.
"It was not originally located on the submitted plans for the event. During a final walkthrough of the footprint of the event, the inflatable tent was noticed and questioned," Farr said.
PrideFest staff said they had submitted plans, but plans for the tent were not in fire department records, Farr added.
A first-time inspection
The manner in which the fire department's concerns were expressed was troubling, said Cale Mitchell, Spectrum Health Care executive director who was attending and manning the Spectrum booth in the vicinity of the discussion.
"They came in super unfriendly, super unhelpful and were not nice to participants," Mitchell said Saturday about the experience, noting Farr was not present, so the inspection responsibilities were delegated. "I know they had a job to do. I don't know what compromise was made."
Farr was briefed Saturday afternoon on the situation, he wrote in a follow-up message to the Tribune, addressing Mitchell's concerns.
"I believe any possible disconnect and frustration arose when our staff advised the event organizer that an inflatable tent, which had not been reflected on initially submitted documentation, was present within the footprint of the event," Farr wrote. "... There are occasions, fortunately rare, when our staff may be perceived to have an unwillingness to compromise or allow for the desires and needs of some events and organizations.
"These unfortunate occurrences tend to cause frustration for our customers and for our staff as well."
The walkthrough inspection was a first in PrideFest's 18-year history, said Janet Davis, PrideFest board president, adding there are a lot of documentation requirements, some of which don't match from city department to city department, and a lot of communication was happening via intermediaries.
"It was a little bit of a struggle. I think there was some serious miscommunication," Davis said Tuesday, adding as PrideFest leadership has changed over the years, some information may not have been passed down the line. " ... Apparently we have done things the way the fire department would not like them to go."
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Since the fire department did not have records of the inflatable tent, the department initially "did not allow the event to be started until we received plans," Farr said.
Finding a compromise
A compromise soon was reached.
The inflated tent temporarily had blowers turned off while plans for the tent could be submitted and received by the fire department.
"(The plans) ultimately were reviewed and approved. There was some concern about weights to keep the tent structure stable," Farr said. "There was not initially a sufficient amount of weight used. We had event organizers address that."
Once this was taken care of, organizers were allowed to inflate the tent again, he added.
"The Columbia Fire Department's primary view of PrideFest as well as many other community-based events is from a public safety perspective," Farr wrote in the follow-up message. "We have primary responsibility for life safety for such events and we take those responsibilities very seriously. Often in the heat of the moment, the public safety perspective can be lost in emotion and frustration."
Farr suggested residents contact the fire department directly if there are further concerns.
Saturdays' confusion gives PrideFest something it can work on for next year, Davis said. Planning and documentation submission likely will start a month earlier than usual, she said.
The PrideFest board plans to hold a meeting next month to review and reflect upon this year's festival.
"There are so many moving parts and people in charge and responsible for things. So there is going to be a little bit lost in translation. You just have to give leeway for that," Davis said.
Continuing to grow
Despite the delay Saturday, this year's PrideFest enjoyed the most success and community support in its history, Davis said.
"We probably doubled our attendance this year," she said. "I probably cried 10 times throughout the weekend because it was so amazing. ... This has been the best PrideFest of my entire life because of the support we had by the community, by Rose (Music Hall), by media and by our vendors."
Due to the size of this year's event, it may be necessary to start looking at expanding its footprint, Davis said.
There are limits on how much PrideFest could expand at its current location due to impacts on residential, public safety and business access.
"We don't want to leave Rose. We absolutely love them and love the partnership with them," Davis said.
PrideFest cannot go much past St. James Street to the east on Park Avenue because of residential and business access. To the west is Cafe Berlin and Putnam Studio, where parking lot access would have to be maintained until at least 2 p.m., so expansion down Tenth Street to the south is out.
PrideFest also cannot go further south on Orr Street. Otherwise, it would block access to the Columbia Fire Department, Davis said.
"We are a little stuck on how we could grow next year without having to move. We had to turn away so many people (for Saturday and Sunday's) drag shows because Rose Music Hall went to capacity so fast," she said.
PrideFest always is in need of volunteers, Davis said.
"Every year, between 80 to 95 volunteers sign up. Maybe 30 show up to help," Davis said, adding it's this small group doing the work of what really should be 120 volunteers.
The push for volunteers starts at least six months before PrideFest, she said.
"We feed them and give them shirts and take really good care of our volunteers," Davis said. "We don't want to run anyone ragged."
Charles Dunlap covers local government, community stories and other general subjects for the Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CD_CDT on Twitter. Please consider subscribing to support vital local journalism.
This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Inflatable tent concern cause of Mid-MO PrideFest delayed start