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Guidelines for Planning Public Events

City of Chicago Event Planners Outline Guidelines for Outdoor Special Events

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Neighborhood organizations in all cities host special events such as outdoor festivals, street fairs or carnivals. And this requires working with and receiving permission from government agencies.

Experienced with organizing about 350 special events throughout Chicago, The Mayor's Office of Special Events has created its Special Events Resource Guide and Special Events Permit Package, which includes practical ideas that other towns and cities may wish to incorporate. Some highlights:

1. Guidelines for Producing a Special Event

(c) 2007 Rob Hard, RH Communications, Inc.
In Chicago, municipal code requires organizations to submit a formal application that agrees to the following:
  • No fee may be charged for admission (set a donation amount).
  • Food vendors must be licensed and possess certification.
  • Liquor vendors must be licensed (beer and wine only).
  • Merchandise vendors must be licensed.
  • Chicago Transit Authority must be notified.

2. Special Event Permit Application

(c) 2007 Rob Hard, RH Communications, Inc.
Organizers must submit a special event permit application with the following requirements: application must be submitted a minimum of 45 days prior to the event; organizers must produce a certificate of insurance for $1 million in commercial general liability, naming the City of Chicago as an additional insured; and applications must be notarized.

3. Street Closures

(c) 2007 Rob Hard, RH Communications Inc.
As part of a special event permit application, organizers should submit an event map that identifies street closure areas and reroute plan. It should consider public garage spaces, driveway access, and fire lane space. Detour signs and barricades must comply with city requirements, and organizers are required to obtain these supplies directly. The following items are considered when issuing a permit:

  • Public safety.
  • Proximity of another event in the area at the same time.
  • Previous issuance of a permit for another event at the same location map.

4. Tents and Canopies

Tents or canopies that are larger than 240 square feet at public events require permits from the city in Chicago. If larger than 600 square feet, drawings must be stamped by a licensed architect or structure engineer, and exit and emergency plans including signs and lighting must be submitted. If the size exceeds 4,000 square feet, the permit request must be submitted by the company responsible for erecting the structure.

5. Public Safety

(c) 2007 Rob Hard, RH Communications, Inc.
Special events must involve both the public and fire department. Organizers must meet with the police commander (and/or his/her representative), and address issues such as a traffic lane for emergency vehicles, security plans and designated command post at the event. Organizers should designate an individual who will act as a liaison to the police department, fire department, streets and sanitation, office of special events and others.

6. Fire Safety Checklist

Festival and outdoor event organizers are required to meet code requirements, including:
  • Tents shall be made of fire retardant material (certification required).
  • Fire extinguishers are required in every booth.
  • Temporary seating rows shall seat 5 to 14 people (maximum).
  • Temporary seating aisles shall be a minimum of 36 inches.
  • Flammable liquids shall not be stored in any tent, canopy or booth.
  • Rubbish shall not be allowed to accumulate.
  • Electrical cords should be taped down and multiple outlets are recommended.
  • Fire lanes for emergency vehicles are recommended (10 foot fire lane).
  • Basic C.P.R. and first aid courses are recommended for staff members.

7. Using/Displaying Animals

If animals are involved in the event, the name of a local veterinarian who will be present at the event must be submitted with the event application. This person will be responsible to provide for any sick or injured animals. In addition, the Commission on Animal Care and Control may inspect animals prior to their use in activities.

8. City Services Requests

Public or private contractors must be hired for a range of services, including posting no parking signs, providing barricades, towing, refuse drums, recycling drums, liners, sweeping, refuse collection, electrical services and/or sound equipment. In Chicago, the Department of Streets and Sanitation is available to provide such services on an hourly fee scheduled based on expertise.

In addition, a recycling program is required as part of the special event permit package.

9. Food Handling at Temporary Food Service Events

Vendors must attend a class by the Department of Health before submitting any applications. In addition, vendors must obtain a Summer Festival Sanitation Training and Certification (offered by the Illinois Restaurant Association). And the health officer, who determines whether a vendor will receive a permit for operation, may suspend any permit at any time.

The City of Chicago outlines detailed rules for food, containers, labels, food protection, personnel personal hygiene, food equipment, waste, booth construction and toxic material. The City of Chicago also requires vendors to attend a mandatory sanitation seminar.

Special event liquor license(s) must be received 20 days prior to the event.

10. Lightpole Banners

Organizers must complete a banner permit application, including a copy of the proposed banner graphics, the date of the event and any other significant aspects of a request. The department of streets and sanitation manages these types of requests.

Special thanks to the Mayor's Office of Special Events in Chicago for extending permission to highlight its Resource Guide and Permit Application requirements.

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