Florida Keys Business
Sunday, May 9, 2010
PARTY ANIMALS

As a prime destination wedding locale, Key West has its share of event planners.

But a new company is focusing more on locals' events and offers its own rental space overlooking Duval Street.

Swankey Events, launched a few months ago by Megan Jones and Kristin Artz, offers planning services for birthday parties, baby showers, corporate dinners, theme parties, rehearsal dinners and weddings.

The company is unique in that it has its own event space perched above Wyland Galleries in the 600 block of Duval.

The space -- once a condo -- features a furnished indoor area and large outdoor patio.

The company will expand the space once the city of Key West moves out of the space behind it. They plan to knock down the wall and open up the room, providing more space for dancing and a bar for private parties.

Clients have the option to rent the space and bring in their own food and vendors or have Swankey Events take care of all the details.

"It also will serve as a backup space for other outside venues in case it rains," said Jones, a Florida Gulf Coast University graduate who was born and raised in Key West.

"You always hope for one day starting your own business," she said about her degree in resort and hospitality management. "It was always a dream, and now it's actually a reality."

Artz, her business partner, moved to Key West in 2004 and has been an event planner since 1998, getting her start in the Boston area.

Artz admitted she was actually thinking about getting out of the wedding business when Jones approached her about opening their own company.

"But you can't get a way from it," Artz said. "It's an addiction."

Jones said the company also is focusing on doing a lot of commitment ceremonies.

"That's a niche we're going after that I don't think anyone largely targets," she said.

Swankey Events also wants to get involved with community events throughout the year.

"We definitely want to do events that bring the community back together and give Key West some of it's old flair," Jones said.

The decision to open her own business was a scary one, but she and Artz clicked immediately, she said.

"I think Megan brings a very fresh and young spin to everything," Artz said. "She's always online. She knows every new color of the season and every new dress designer."

"Kristin brings it all together," Jones said. "She's kind of like the icing on the cake."

The women have adeptly learned to deal with many crises.

"There's really not a problem that can't be solved," Artz said.

For example, they had to go to great lengths to get the father of the bride to town for a rehearsal dinner after his plane had to turn back to Miami because of bad weather. They sent a limo to get him, but the limo broke down. A second limo was dispatched, and he finally arrived.

There also was the time that a cruise ship pulled in and decided not to leave as scheduled, blocking the view from the planned ceremony at the Ocean Key Resort & Spa. Jones and Artz scrambled to move the ceremony to the Southernmost Hotel and arranged Conch Tour Trains to transport the guests to the new location.

And of course Mother Nature has played a hand in many last-minute changes.

They also are used to dealing with strange requests, such as the client who wanted an Elvis impersonator for a cocktail party, or the couple who requested a Ferris wheel for their reception.

"We found it, but unfortunately the hotel wouldn't allow it," Artz said.

For many months of the year, event planning is a 24/7 job, Artz said. They get e-mails from brides in the middle of the night who want to change their color scheme a week before the wedding or have purchased three wedding dresses and can't decide which one to wear. They also have to be prepared for phone calls at all hours of the day with clients in California or England.

The hardest part isn't always the stress of pulling together a great event, Jones said; it's saying goodbye to clients after working with them for months.

"You spend months and months talking to these clients, sometimes on a daily basis," Jones said. "And then the big day comes, and when it's over it's hard to realize we're not going to talk to them for awhile."

amswary@keysnews.com

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