Tampa's fire marshal was right to question the safety of next month's Gala Corina art show. It is too bad that supporters of the event were less sensitive to public safety concerns.
Gala Corina is an annual event, in which old buildings become temporary galleries to showcase the beauty of urban neighborhoods. Tampa's fire marshal said this year's site, downtown's old Arlington Hotel, was not close to meeting safety codes for hosting the thousands of people expected to attend.
The organizer acknowledged he "played down" the number of people expected in a scheme "to ensure our variance requests." The City Council chairman, an arts supporter, also got involved after hearing of problems at a party Saturday night. There were calls and meetings, and the wheels started to turn. The organizer, in an e-mail message titled "Don't Panic," even told those helping him that "a hurdle like this one will add significant buzz around town and could actually work to our benefit from a marketing standpoint" because "more hype makes for more feet through the door."
That last bit is ironic, because it was the number of feet coming through the door that prompted the fire marshal to object in the first place. Indeed, events like Gala Corina deserve support, and the city, under Mayor Pam Iorio, has shown a commitment to work with private groups to boost the local artistic scene.
There is nothing wrong with organizers meeting with city officials to allay concerns about temporary events. Some old and vacant buildings might have safety problems that are easy to accommodate for a brief time and for a limited audience. But this episode had too many people in important positions alarmingly cavalier about safety concerns. By sticking with his decision, the fire marshal dutifully performed his job.