The Detroit Fire Department shut down a packed Star Wars-themed party on Saturday, saying the event was a “nightmare in progress.”
More than 500 people were inside the Tangent Gallery for the seventh annual Space Dive event when fire marshals said they spotted open fire pits, propane tanks, blocked exits, trip hazards, and embers blowing around. Organizers also lacked a special event permit, says Detroit Fire Department spokesman James Harris.
“It was dark, smokey, and everyone was wearing flammable costumes,” Harris tells Metro Times. “It was a nightmare in progress.”
At about 10 p.m., fire marshals ordered everyone out of the building at 715 E. Milwaukee St.
The event, which included live music, cocktails, and extravagant props and set designs, was scheduled to end around 2 a.m.
Organizers are disappointed with how the fire department handled the event, saying the issues could have been resolved without shutting down the party, which attracted people from as far away as California.
“They didn’t give us an opportunity to fix anything. Our team could have scrambled and fixed it,” Daniel Land, co-director of the event, tells Metro Times. “It was very minor stuff. Hundreds of people were kicked out on the street. They created a more dangerous situation by kicking everyone out in a rush.”
As people scrambled out of the venue, some of them damaged the elaborate props, including a replica of the character R2-D2, which was decapitated.
“It was kind of an ugly scene they created,” Land says. “It very much felt to us that this is the Empire coming down. This was the hand of oppression.”
It’s unclear why the fire marshal waited until Saturday to take action. The Space Dive event also took place on Thursday and Friday, and fire officials told organizers that they were at the event on Friday.
If fire marshals alerted organizers to the problems earlier, they could have addressed them without impacting the event, Land says.
“I’ve done security for about 15 years, and this is my first event shutdown,” O’Neal Hillock, a member of the security team, tells Metro Times. “They could have let us fix some things. The way they did it wasn’t right. People spent thousands of dollars on costumes, and it all went down the toilet. It’s a shame because everyone was having a good time.”
Organizers planned to allow as many as 800 people in the building, which has a capacity of 1,000, Land says. People were still in line when the event was canceled.
Organizers don’t plan to issue refunds because the ticket proceeds pay for the event and staff. No one profits from the party, Land says.
“We want to find a way to make people feel better about what happened,” Land says. “We’re still working on the details.”
People who attended the event on Friday said they had a blast.
“What an awesome experience!” Bob Russman wrote on Space Dive’s Facebook page. “So much fun. So many great costumes. Decorations were superb.”
A few people complained, saying they paid $35 per ticket for an event that was overbooked and chaotic.
“Even if capacity was not among the marshal’s complaints, it was absolutely a problem that made the event nearly impossible to enjoy," Zelda Flanagan wrote on Space Dive’s Facebook page. “It’s exciting to see the event be successful, but if that’s the amount of people we can expect every time, I won’t be back. Hopefully organizers can strike a balance between selling tickets and visitor experience.”
The event is partly run by the group behind Theatre Bizarre, a wildly popular gothic carnival with elaborate stage sets, dancers, and music.
Theatre Bizarre has had its own hiccups with the city. In 2010, various zoning violations forced organizers to move the event from the former Michigan State Fairgrounds to the Fillmore Theatre.
Since 2011, the annual event has taken place at the Masonic Temple.
For Land and other organizers, the shutdown of Space Dive won’t deter them from making an even better event next year.
“It’s a labor of love. The vibe at the event is so positive,” Land says. “If they strike us down, we will become more powerful.”
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