The Bay Area Toll Authority— the government agency that handles revenue from toll booths—approved a $5.6 million contract with a Richmond-based event planner to organize a two-day celebration of the opening of the East Span of the Bay Bridge over Labor Day weekend.
Hartmann Studios was awarded the contract after 10 of the 14 board commissioners present at an agency meeting Wednesday voted to approve it.
Hartmann’s Richmond facility includes in-house studios for lighting, wood-making, and painting. According to an article in San Francisco Business Times, Hartmann has a 140,000 square foot space on its 5-acre campus, and is the second largest event company in California outside of Los Angeles. Its organizers will handle the transportation, operations, and public safety services for the celebration of the bridge opening in September.
The $9 million event will be paid for through public and private funding— $5.6 million will be coming from BATA and the rest from private organizations. The Bay Bridge Alliance, a nonprofit created specifically for the opening of the East Span, will be collecting private donations for some parts of the celebration, which include a walk across the bridge, a bike ride, a 10k run, and fireworks.
But on Wednesday, commissioners didn’t agree on how much of the money should come from the public or private fundraising.
Commissioner and San Jose City Councilmember Sam Liccardo said the private companies benefiting from the event should be the first to step forward and donate toward the event.
“I think we ought to be thinking much more seriously about getting commitments up front and then coming back to this body and deciding if we want to commit public dollars,” Liccardo said during the meeting.
BATA Executive Director Steve Heminger said he estimated that the private sector would need to raise another $3.5 million in addition to the $5.6 the BATA is contributing for the event.
Hartmann Studios President Mark Guelfi attended the meeting and said charging participants for tickets would be an easy task for his firm to handle.
But Commissioner and Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said he didn’t want the fees to become too expensive for large families.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Bates said. “I think they shouldn’t be barred by having some kind of fee.”
In 1987, people were given the opportunity to walk across the highway part of the Golden Gate Bridge for its 50th anniversary, but event planners did not prepare for the nearly 800,000 walkers that participated and the event nearly ended in disaster after the bridge started to visibly sway.
This was an underlying concern for some of the commissioners. Bay Bridge Alliance Executive Jim Wunderman assured them that this time around, it would be different.
Wunderman said the 1987 celebration “didn’t go well because we didn’t take it seriously. We didn’t think of enough things and we didn’t have the proper public safety in place and it almost caused a disaster.”
This year, planners are expecting between 125,000 and 200,000 people to participate in the celebration.
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission released a report of phone calls and emails its employees have received in favor and opposing the celebration. According to its tally, employees have received 52 calls and emails in favor, and 37 calls and emails opposing.
But Commissioner and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said her office has received about three times more opposing calls than supporting.
The Bay Bridge Alliance has created a sign-up page on its website for those interested in participating in the walk, bike ride, or run. So far, nearly 18,000 people have signed up for the event.