Oklahoma Event Organizers Consider Options As State Tries To Reopen
As Oklahoma navigates plans to reopen slowly, event organizers must decide whether to hold their functions in person, move them online or cancel altogether. Journal Record editor Russell Ray discusses how some of the state's most beloved occasions could change in the wake of COVID-19.
Drew Hutchinson: This is the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I’m Drew Hutchinson. Joining me is Russell Ray, editor of The Journal Record. I graduated college -- virtually -- last week, so this is my last time co-hosting. Russell, thanks for taking the time to speak to me one last time today.
Russell Ray: Well it’s been my pleasure, Drew, and we’re going to miss you.
Hutchinson: I’ll miss you too. This has been a great experience. According to a Journal Record story from last week, under Gov. Kevin Stitt’s plan to reopen the state, if COVID-19 cases don’t exceed hospital capabilities, further public interaction will be allowed. This means that large conferences could be allowed to resume. But just because they could technically be permitted doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily happen. Some event organizers, including those of some of Oklahoma City’s longest-standing events, are feeling uncertain about whether to host their functions online or cancel them altogether.
Ray: Well that’s right, Drew. Even though large events and concerts will soon be allowed, the social distancing guidelines that are still in place would make it impractical to hold such an event. Until those social distancing mandates are relaxed, large sporting events and concerts more than likely won’t be open to the public. As you said, they will have to either broadcast those events online or reschedule. And all of this depends on the number of COVID cases and hospitalizations trending down at a manageable level. Under the state plan, bars can reopen and sporting events can resume on May 15.
Hutchinson: Kouplen pointed to possible mental health issues stemming from social distancing, as well as dwindling funds from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, as reasons he thinks the state’s economy should be opened sooner rather than later. Some large events are still scheduled for June, but organizers are definitely taking a wait-and-see approach. That’s according to Michael Carrier, president of the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Ray: Yes. According to Carrier, a major part of the challenge is a lot of events are in facilities that are owned by the city, and there still hasn’t been a determination that those facilities will be open. Until Mayor David Holt issues a proclamation to reopen city-operated facilities, those venues will remain unavailable for events. Carrier said there are still a lot of unanswered questions and right now most of the meeting planners and event planners are taking it one step at a time.
Hutchinson: Carrier said safety is key when deciding whether to carry on large events. Event organizers are asking themselves if their event can be held safely in conjunction with best practices recommended by the CDC, as well as if attendees will be able to feel comfortable and secure in the space and actually enjoythe event.
Ray: That’s right. Right now, the Chesapeake Energy Arena still has a concert scheduled for late June. The performer may cancel, but the event may proceed using best practices for COVID-19 prevention. If that concert is held, the arena’s director of marketing said they will establish and publicize any new safety protocols and guidelines for that concert. The deadCenter Film Festival, which is celebrating its 20th year, will proceed on June 11-21. But instead of holding screenings in multiple venues throughout downtown Oklahoma City, the entire event will be held online this year.
Hutchinson: Attendees of the festival will be able to purchase an all-access pass or a ticket to the films’ online access. Each year, one of the highlights of the festival is a free outdoor screening, usually held at the OKC Myriad Gardens. The festival’s director, Alyx Picard Davis, said she’s looking at a drive-in option to replace this.
Ray: Yes. Davis said they’re putting people’s health first. They don’t want to create a situation where people are concerned about their safety. In any outdoor setting, the festival would likely have to monitor capacity and establish some kind of safety protocol. Dais said they’re looking at issues regarding crowd control and preventing any behavior that could threaten the health and safety of attendees.
Hutchinson: Thank you one more time for your time today.
Ray: My pleasure, Drew. Thank you and good luck.
Hutchinson: Russell Ray is editor of The Journal Record. KGOU and The Journal Record collaborate each week on the Business Intelligence Report. You can follow us both on social media. We're on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter: @journalrecord and @KGOUnews. The story we discussed today is available on JournalRecord.com. And this conversation, along with previous episodes of the Business Intelligence Report, are available on our website, KGOU.org. For KGOU and the Business Intelligence Report, I'm Drew Hutchinson.
The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.
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