By Jessica Beckmann
Quarantines and social distancing mandates caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have forced physical separation, but venue teams and IAVM members are uniting to close the gap between the guidance our government has provided and executing reopening the industry.
Reopening America is on the agenda. State and Federal Government officials alike are announcing new guidelines for reopening the economy in phases, but will venue managers be the last to unlock our doors?
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear unveiled a 10-point Healthy at Work Plan that mirrors that of the White House. The plan’s purpose is to guide businesses as they prepare for a gradual reopening.
The 10 rules to reopening a business under the Healthy at Work plan are:
• Continue telework where possible
• Phased return to work
• Onsite temperature/health checks
• Universal masks and other necessary PPE
• Close common areas
• Enforce social distancing
• Limit face-to-face meetings
• Sanitizer/hand wash stations
• Special accommodations
• Testing plan
As officials take the first steps toward restarting our economy, venue managers are now challenged with preparing to follow sometimes vague and wavering guidelines for safely reopening our workplaces. State and Federal guidelines like the Healthy at Work Plan are trickling out in phases that aim to return life to normal, but where does that leave us?
According to WhiteHouse.gov “Opening Up America Again,” all three phases of reopening that are specific to large venues include some level of physical distancing.
• Phase 1: Large Venues can operate under strict physical distancing protocols.
• Phase 2: Large Venues can operate under moderate physical distancing protocols.
• Phase 3: Large Venues can operate under limited physical distancing protocols.
Large Venues reopening and lifting restrictions on public gatherings are falling in line in the last phase of most plans. After managing the closing or repurposing of our buildings, virtual staff meetings, corporate task forces, and IAVM sector town halls have shifted their focus to plans for reopening.
The pandemic created physical distance, but if you are fortunate enough to continue working remotely, I encourage you to connect regularly with your team and other industry professionals during this time. The IAVM network is strengthening over digital platforms. IAVM discussion boards, blogs, town halls, and webinars are a great place for pooling resources. Venue managers are brainstorming, sharing, confiding, advising, and connecting with one another about executing their plans to reopen. We are problem solvers and we thrive in challenging atmospheres. We are going to get through this, and we can do it together.
So where do we go from here?
Our regular operations are expected to change.
Based on current mandates, we should be preparing our venues for staff to return safely. For each venue, this phase could look very different, but all of our plans should prioritize facility sanitizing, stocking cleaning products, and utilizing health screening and personal protective equipment.
As capacity restrictions are lifted and venues are made available to the public for smaller gatherings, venue managers will be focused on providing spaces that still accommodate social distancing. Small meeting room layouts will be expanded into full ballroom floorplans where guests can maintain suggested spacing. Larger venues will be looking at drastic capacity reductions as well. Venues that seat 75,000 people are currently evaluating seating capacity reductions to 5,000-10,000. In this scenario, phased reopening may not be feasible until acceptable physical distances are decreased and capacity restrictions are lifted completely.
Meetings, trade shows, and exhibits may be able to continue with modifications that maintain physical distance, but there are events such as sporting events, wedding receptions, and concerts that crowds and close proximity to one another are an intrinsic part of the atmosphere. With physical distancing at the core of these phased openings, is that not the very opposite of the atmosphere we strive to create for a financially successful event and memorable guest experience?
If our largest venues are the last to phase back in, arenas and stadiums may be wasting their time and money, planning and purchasing for the first couple of reopening phases. If the core concept remains to retain a level of physical distance among our patrons, without a drastic reduction of artist guarantees or skyrocketing of ticket prices when large scale venues are allowed to reopen, these facilities may not be able or willing under the new guidelines.
Will venues ever truly return to “normal” or will we be faced with a “new norm” with social distancing at its core? Staff, client, guest, and industry expectations are changing. I think we can all agree that whether we are reopening to small gatherings in oversized spaces, or delaying until all capacity restrictions are lifted, we cannot proceed as we did before. As our plans take shape for reopening, now is the time to contribute and lean on one another in the industry as we manage and shape the new norm.
Jessica Beckmann is Assistant General Manager of Spectra-managed Owensboro Sportscenter and a member of the IAVM
Young Professionals Committee.