The Twin Cities Auto Show draws more attendees than ever to a new outdoor tented venue.
by Sigrid Tornquist
Perhaps an auto show is the perfect event to bring a shimmer of hope and usher COVID-weary people back into the practice of safely celebrating at large gatherings. And maybe it’s an idea whose time has come: a show that celebrates new cars—a symbol of freedom of movement and autonomy—should be hosted in the great outdoors.
Canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, the 48th annual Twin Cities Auto Show came back bigger and better than ever in May 2021. Show organizers made the strategic decision to move from hosting the event indoors to an outdoor venue: the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in St. Paul, Minn. While safety from the virus was the main driver behind the decision, the move also allowed the show more space to showcase the latest and greatest cars, which brought with it a need for tents, and as it turned out—more attendees. And Plymouth, Minn.-based Ultimate Events handled the structures (along with some specialized finishes).
Timing, creativity, communication
Ultimate Events crews installed more than 35,000 square feet of tenting and 11,000 square feet of flooring in less than nine days for the expansive event. “The Minnesota State Fairgrounds venue hosts more than 50 events each month and with the amount of product being rented, we had to work around many other events and vendors in order to complete the job on time,” says Andrea Heinl, Ultimate Events’ project manager and decor specialist.
In addition to standard tenting and flooring, many of the clients amped up their space with special requests. “Automotive manufacturers love to stand out among the crowd,” Heinl says. “This led to very specific requests from clients.”
Custom items that vendors requested with their tents included flooring, ramps, carpet and specialty lighting. Ultimate Events’ sales team tapped into their creative expertise to conceive of solutions specific to each automotive manufacturer’s needs and desires, such as working closely with the Mercedes-Benz marketing team to create and apply impressive logo stickers for the company’s tent gables.
The sheer number of clients, vendors and event professionals at the event brought with it the need to prioritize communication. Ultimate Events designated Heinl as the full-time project manager to work directly with the manufacturers, marketing firms, venue managers, auto show directors and other rental vendors to ensure a smoothly executed event. Heinl was on call 24/7 to answer all questions and create logistical schedules for all vendors. “The communication aspect of this event was incredibly difficult—working with over 50 managers, many of whom are not local to the area,” Heinl says. “Each automotive manufacturer had an average of two lead managers, one marketing manager and two on-site managers.”
When David Downey, sales representative for Ultimate Events, started taking calls for the Twin Cities Auto Show, he was not expecting so many automotive manufacturers to want their entire outdoor space tented. “Many vendors wanted to create a functioning indoor showroom inside a tent,” Downey says. “This surprise caught us a little off guard, and our crews worked hard to complete an enormous amount of tenting in such a short time frame.”
To complicate things further, the Minnesota COVID-19 state guidelines caused a lot of high anxiety among the auto show vendors. “Many automotive manufacturers would not commit to any contracts until they were sure the state would not shut the event down,” Downey says. “This, coupled with working around other events that were happening before and after the auto show at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, caused our timing to be incredibly tight.”
Despite the challenges, Ultimate Events’ crews managed to install an enormous amount of equipment in just nine days.
The Twin Cities Auto Show required basic tenting and event permitting that did not cause installers much trouble. “However, our challenge came with the weighting system for most of the tenting,” Heinl says. “We purchased brand-new weights and created custom weight covers in order to have over 3,000 pounds of weight per tent leg to meet all safety requirements.”
Ultimate Events was able to accomplish most of this project using two team leaders and a crew ranging from five to eight field members, an executive sales member with more than 15 years of rental experience, and a project manager who specializes in large-scale events and logistics. The team members were proud of the work they accomplished, especially given the time crunch and logistical challenges. The project highlighted the company’s abilities in logistical management and custom tenting solutions.
And while receiving glowing feedback from both vendors and attendees, coupled with a hope that this will become an annual outdoor event for Ultimate Events in Minnesota, the team says the most satisfying part of this event was seeing the large volume turnout. “The attendance was almost triple what the organizing committee expected,” Heinl says. “It was particularly good to see the large crowds after the long COVID winter, and it was enjoyable to see families out having a good time and enjoying events again.”
Sigrid Tornquist is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor, and a former InTents editor.
Ultimate Events worked closely with Fern, a national event strategy and production company that has historically handled the Twin Cities Auto Show when it was indoors. “They were excellent at communicating and working with our crews in order to meet the client’s expectations,” says Andrea Heinl, Ultimate Events’ project manager. “Some of the auto show vendors used other companies to supply tent rentals, both local and national.”