The venue for this year's Gala will be changed from the Westin Hotel to an on-campus location, according to an e-mail sent to students Thursday afternoon. Ticket sales were put on hold Thursday for a "few days" while organizers wait to determine the new venue and its capacity, according to the e-mail.
The venue change comes after several days of discussion and negotiation between the event's organizers — the Key Society and the 2010 and 2011 Class Boards — and the Student Labor Alliance, Westin workers and management, University administrators and legal counsel. The groups involved began searching for a new location for the event following concerns raised by the SLA about the labor dispute between workers and hotel management.
"Our goal is to have it next Saturday, but we're going to make an announcement as soon as we have more information," said Neil Parikh '11, the 2011 Class Board president and one of the event's main organizers . The new location has not been officially determined yet, he said.
Event organizers are considering holding the event in Andrews Dining Hall, which has a limited capacity of between 400 and 500 people, said Key Society secretary Mayra Reyes '10. Last year's event took place in a tent with a capacity of 1,000, Parikh said.
Originally, organizers did not think it would be possible to pull out of the contract with the Westin, Parikh said, adding that the contract required a $5,000 deposit and a $20,000 minimum cost for the event at the Westin. If the organizers were locked into the Westin contract, then they would have to pay for both the new venue and the Westin, he said.
The event has been given a $26,000 loan from the Undergraduate Finance Board, Parikh said Wednesday night. If the organizers cannot repay the loan, UFB will freeze the accounts of the Class Boards and Key Society, a risk Parikh was not willing to take, he said.
Following the announcement Thursday, Parikh said he could not comment on the Westin contract. But he said that "some new news that we had gotten today changed matters."
"We as a community have decided to do something harder because it's the right thing to do," Sam Adler-Bell '12, a member of SLA, said. "We're really thankful and appreciate that the class board and the Key Society have decided to do the right thing."
The Westin workers called for a boycott of the hotel March 18 following unsatisfactory contract renegotiations developments, according to the Providence Journal. The SLA had been working to support the Westin workers and wanted to honor the workers' call for a boycott, Adler-Bell said.
"Many of the students really wanted to go to the Gala, but they didn't want it to be tarnished because it was taking place at the Westin," Adler-Bell said.
Julian Park '12, another member of the SLA, credited the venue change to the collaboration among all involved.
Park said his understanding after a meeting Thursday afternoon was that the University is "going to try (its) hardest to get as much of the contract released as possible."
"We're counting on the support of the administration and student groups," Parikh said.
The decision to move the location of the Gala on-campus came after other alternatives — including the Biltmore — were ruled out based on their cost and capacity. Last year's Gala was held on campus in a tent, which proved problematic due to problems caused by severe rain. The tent alone cost around $30,000, Parikh said.
"Our goal is not to have it completely outside based on last year's situation in the rain," said Parikh. This year's event should not cost more than originally estimated, he said. "A lot of costs that do not affect the quality of the event have gone down a bit."
Now that the event is not being held at the Westin, members of the SLA said they want to help make it a success.
"We really want this event to happen. Gala is a thing that's important to a lot of people on campus, and I think it's unfortunate that people have gotten the impression that we want to wreck the event because that's absolutely the last thing that we want to happen," Park said.
"We think we're going to be very happy with what we have," Parikh said.
— With additional reporting by Alex Bell
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Westin workers had called for a boycott the previous Thursday. In fact, they called for a boycott Thursday, March 18. The Herald regrets the error.