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Michigan banquet facility restrictions push entertainment company to do business outside of state

Posted at 5:07 PM, Mar 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-26 10:34:05-04

(WXYZ) — "If we go with an oldie, they do 'Build Me Up, Buttercup,' if we do an 80s rocker, we got 'Footloose.'"

If there’s one thing Dean Rusch, owner of Michigan's Rusch Entertainment, knows — it's music.

Throwing a party is what Rusch and his team have done for 50 years, but there’s been no party pooper as big as the pandemic.

"Now, at this moment, we have moved 800 events," said Rusch.

Some neighboring states have looser restrictions and Ohio has recently lifted capacity limitations on banquet facilities. Michigan remains at a 25 person cap indoors for non-residential venues, with 300 allowed outdoors.

FINAL Masks and Gatherings Order - 3-19-21 7am 719890 7 by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd

The stricter regulations, Rusch said, have pushed him to take work outside of the state.

Photo courtesy: The Inn at St. John's

"In the last three weeks, we've done two Florida weddings, all weddings that were scheduled in Michigan," said Rusch. "This week alone, I booked two weddings in Ohio, so we're changing ... in the DJ entertainment industry, we have to go to the work, the work's not going to come to us."

Ohio’s governor lifted banquet facility restrictions in early March as long as other COVID safety regulations could be followed.

Ohio: First Amended Revised Order for Mass Gatherings Final 03.02.21 by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd

Gene Natale of Burning River Entertainment Group out of Cleveland, Ohio, said he is confident the show can safely go on.

"I feel that those of us in the event industry who are committed to the event industry show that we can do events safely and keep ourselves safe, keep our clients safe, keep their families safe, keep the community safe and still have these celebrations," said Natale.

Shaun Daniels, owner of Sutle Productions in Cincinnati, said that while he doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable with how open things are in Ohio as a whole, he’s been pleasantly surprised with how events are running at banquet facilities.

"Banquet facilities adhere to the rules, they make sure that people are being socially distanced or make sure that people are wearing masks when they're not ... seated and things of that nature, with bars and clubs, you don't see that too much," said Daniels.

While wedding bookings have remained slow for his company, Daniels said, the ones he has done during the pandemic run smoothly when all of the vendors and venue work together.

"As long as we can be a team and go by the rules and everything, it's going to be a great night," he said.

The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association is calling on Governor Gretchen Whitmer's administration to rethink the current venue capacity restrictions here in our state, saying in part “consistent guidelines with a metric-driven plan are needed … we are running out of time for venues to prepare for any sort of summer season.”

Read the full statement from Justin Winslow, President and CEO of the MRLA, below:

"The current capacity limit of 25 people for banquet halls and event centers is dramatically out of line with our surrounding states. We are seeing countless event bookings canceled and being hosted in neighboring states as a result. Consistent guidelines with a metric-driven plan are needed from both an operations standpoint, and for brides and grooms and other celebrants/event hosts who need months, not days or weeks, to prepare. We are running out of time for venues to prepare for any sort of summer season."

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said the current restrictions on the size of gatherings "remain necessary to protect frontline workers and Michiganders everywhere from COVID-19." Adding they will continue to monitor case rates, percent positivity and hospitalizations in their decision making.

Read the MDHHS's full statement below:

"The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) continues to make decisions that protect public health based on the best available science and data. Michigan has made great progress since the late fall peak, however, community spread of the virus continues across the state, which means that protections such as restrictions on the size of gatherings and consistent masking and social distancing remain necessary to protect frontline workers and Michiganders everywhere from COVID-19. COVID-19 spreads in indoor settings where individuals socialize without masks. The presence of more infectious variants, such as the B 1.1.7 variant, threatens our progress in control of the epidemic and MDHHS will be monitoring data closely. Our goal is to reengage while reducing public health risk which is why we move slowly to maintain progress and momentum with thoughtful public health measures. We will continue to monitor the data to make decisions including three key metrics: case rates, percent positivity, and hospitalizations. It is critical that we not let up now and remind Michiganders to continue to mask up, wash their hands, social distance, get tested, and get vaccinated as soon as it is available to them."

Rusch hopes Michigan can ease up on the restrictions for banquet facilities.

"We need to get back to normal. People know how to protect themselves," he said.

Whatever the future holds, Rusch said they won’t miss a beat with the guidelines, wherever they’re entertaining.

"We're just ready to change, to roll ... with the punches, do whatever we need to do to make it fun. And I will tell you this, even if they don't allow dancing, everything goes better with music."