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Event planners scramble to reschedule weddings, galas in the wake of Freddie Gray's death

Dan Sexton (foreground) of Columbia, an electrician, and Karl Nana of Gaithersburg, an audio tech, both with EventPro, check leko lights at the Maryland State Fairgrounds. Event planner Union3 begins work to transform the Home Arts Building into a suitable venue for an elegant gala benefiting Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital.
Dan Sexton (foreground) of Columbia, an electrician, and Karl Nana of Gaithersburg, an audio tech, both with EventPro, check leko lights at the Maryland State Fairgrounds. Event planner Union3 begins work to transform the Home Arts Building into a suitable venue for an elegant gala benefiting Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun)

Harford County elementary school teacher Jim Javorsky had booked the Maryland Science Center in the Inner Harbor in late 2013 in preparation for marrying the love of his life, website designer Brian Andrews.

Two hundred guests, half flying in from out of town, were preparing to help the couple celebrate this weekend until last Saturday turned into Sunday.

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Then on Monday, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced a citywide curfew beginning at 10 p.m. to quell the violence that erupted after Freddie Gray died April 19, one week after suffering fatal injuries while in police custody.

"We didn't know what to do," said Javorsky, who lives in Nottingham. "We thought about trying to bump up the time by a few hours so the event could end at 8:30 p.m. instead of at midnight."

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But who wants to stop partying on a Saturday night just after sunset?

When the couple learned that a big downtown rally was scheduled for Saturday, that was the final straw.

"We started getting really nervous and stressed out," Javorsky said. "We were thinking about all our guests coming in who aren't familiar with the city."

That's the predicament besetting event planners and engaged couples across the region ever since the curfew went into effect Tuesday.

They've been forced to choose among several alternatives, none ideal: change the event date and hope everyone can still attend; relocate outside the city, even if it means compromising on the venue; or send guests home early.

"The biggest let-down has been all the negative images people are seeing of this great city," said Katey Clark, a wedding planner and co-owner of lemon & lime event design. After several frantic days in which her plans fell through not just once but twice, Clark successfully relocated a Friday rehearsal dinner and Saturday wedding reception from Harbor East to Towson.

"The bride grew up in Baltimore, and some wedding guests are coming from Sweden and the West Coast," Clark said. "She had been so excited about having a chance to show off Baltimore."

Javorsky and Andrews also decided to move their wedding outside the city, though that meant getting married on Friday, one day early.

They couldn't believe their luck when the century-old Overhills Mansion in Catonsville provided them with a sample dinner menu and a selection of linens and decorations on three hours' notice.

"We had anticipated that no one would be able to make it," Javorsky said. "But now we're planning on seating 160 of our original 200 guests. A lot of people changed their flights, hotel reservations, and took off from work so they could be here with us."

For Alexa McCulloch and Lindsey Stone of Union3 Event Productions, trying to relocate the Storybook Gala to Baltimore County with less than one week's notice was the party planners' equivalent of "Extreme Makeover: Event Edition."

"We ought to be wearing our superhero capes right now," McCulloch joked after she and Stone spent a frantic day in which they managed to salvage the benefit, which raises money for Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital.

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The elegant affair was to have been held downtown at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore Hotel, with dinner, dancing and an auction.

In less than 48 hours, McCulloch and Stone got out of their agreement with the hotel and secured a space at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium. They found a caterer who could prepare 620 dinners on short notice. And they began the hard work of using carpeting, lighting, flowers and other decorative touches to refashion a cinder block structure into a magical space.

"We're going to have to put a lot of lipstick on this pig," McCulloch said, "but I think people are going to be shocked by how we're managing to transform it."

Baltimore Clayworks also had to do some fast maneuvering to relocate its annual gala — but instead of fleeing to one of the surrounding counties where the curfew is not in effect, the event is migrating from one location within city limits to another.

Previously, the Clayworks Bash was scheduled for Maryland Art Place, 218 W. Saratoga St. Now the event will be held at the organization's Mount Washington headquarters.

"Downtown is packed and roads are closed," said the group's executive director, Sarah McCann. "Travel is going to be challenging, and we wanted to be sure that people would be safe and could get around."

But the organization never considered relocating outside Baltimore — though that means the party now will end two hours early, at 9 o'clock Saturday.

"We serve a lot of people who live in neighborhoods that have been impacted by the violence," McCann said. "We decided this was the way we could continue to best serve them."

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