Fire code violations cause Heritage Arena to scale back large events

JACKSON HOLE — A few local organizations are adjusting to a new policy that bars large groups from using the Heritage Arena for their events—even if they have been allowed to in the past.

“The original intent of that facility was for livestock and agricultural events,” said Rachel Grimes, Teton County fair manager.

The Heritage Arena was built using SPET money in 2006. The 49,000-square foot indoor arena on the fairgrounds is a heated space used for a variety of equine- and ag-related events.

But throughout the years, the Heritage Arena has served the community for numerous purposes, including special events like the Jackson Hole Ski Swap, Fireman’s Ball, and most recently, JacksonHoleLive’s special winter concert featuring Lucas Nelson and Promise of the Real.

These larger events have attracted hundreds and occasionally thousands of attendees. A recent review of the facility construction and relevant fire codes revealed that without major upgrades, the building was not compliant for large events. Large events would require compliance with a set of more restrictive building code regulations. At the end of April, Teton County Fire Marshal Kathy Clay determined that according to fire code, the building’s occupancy could not exceed more than 160 people at one time.

“This is a result of my committed effort to make sure our public is safe when they are going into public buildings,” Clay said.

The county promptly informed affected vendors, who typically use the arena in the fall, so that they would have ample time to find a new venue that could support their event.

Unfortunately, the determination came within two weeks of the annual Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation annual banquet. And while their contract estimates that 400 people may attend the banquet, exceeding current occupancy restrictions, Teton County determined that the organization likely did not have enough time to find a new location without significant hardship and thus granted an exception, which will allow the event to occur as scheduled.

“This is an exception for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation because they booked the facility in August 2018, and we felt that it was important to honor their reservation. Two weeks was simply not enough time for them to find an alternative venue,” said Teton County General Services Manager, Sarah Mann.

With the assistance of the Fire Marshal, the county is taking extra measures to ensure the public’s safety during the event, including adequate emergency lighting and two fire watch security guards.

“The fire code offers the ability to perform a fire watch on the structure. Security members will be present to watch for emergencies and direct people should an event occur,” Clay said. “With fire watch and emergency egress lighting, life safety protection will be enhanced within the Heritage Arena for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s banquet.”

Moving forward, the fairgrounds will only accept Heritage Arena use applications for events that will not exceed 160 people at one time. The Heritage Arena will continue to be open to the public for agricultural events, like horseback-riding, as well as non-agricultural events.

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