What’s in that Hangar?

What’s in that Hangar?

Hangars have become the new hotel ballroom for glitzy events. But after the party, it’s back to business for Scottsdale’s airplane garages.

By Jimmy Magahern / Photos courtesy of Venues of North Scottsdale

There’s something about throwing a chic party in a cavernous aircraft hangar, with its stark cement floor and bare rafters, pipes and ducts, that strikes the perfect hipster balance between stripped down and gussied up. Karen May, marketing V.P. for Venues of North Scottsdale, which specializes in staging big events in unusual spaces, says hangars offer a cool alternative to the traditional hotel ballroom.

“In a hotel, you’ve got crazy gaudy carpet and chandeliers,” she explains. “You’re saddled with the look of the hotel, and you’re stuck trying to cover it up. In the hangar, you’ve got very raw, very open space with a high ceiling. And you can make it look any way that you want. Or you can leave it very industrial and just change the atmosphere with lighting effects.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that event planners have been embracing hangars. Billionaire Bennett Dorrance’s Hangar One, one of two 30,000-square-foot hangars joined by a center structure topped with a giant aluminum replica of a paper airplane, is typically booked for lavish corporate galas months in advance. May’s company works with owners of around 20 private airplane hangars to host parties for corporate branding or product launch events as well as some high society weddings.

Given all the excitement swirling around the Scottsdale Airpark at night, it’s easy to assume hangars are happening hot spots 24/7. Not so, says Chris Read, airport operations manager for the City of Scottsdale. As part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s regulations regarding the use of aircraft hangars, apart from the one-off event (for which organizers must acquire a Temporary Activity Permit from the city), it’s prohibited to use a hangar for much else besides storing an active aircraft or equipment related to aeronautical activity – and the city conducts annual inspections to make sure owners are in compliance.

In recent years, hangar owners around the Glendale Municipal Airport and Falcon Field Airport in Mesa have been fined for using their hangars as essentially “man caves,” stocking them with boats, antique cars, vintage soda machines and jukeboxes. But in Scottsdale, owners are apparently a bit more cautious.

“We’ve been doing the inspections for approximately 15 years now,” Read says. “But we typically only find minor violations – such as improper use of extension cords, missing outlet covers and so on.”

Rumors have circulated about a medical marijuana grow house operating out of an Airpark hangar, but alas, that’s not exactly true. A company named CSI Solutions runs a dispensary just down the road from Hangar One in a building that sits adjacent to a hangar, but the owner has signed papers attesting he uses a cultivation facility far removed from the Airpark. Not even “intoxicating liquor” can be offered at an aircraft hangar without a Special Event Permit from the city. The closest place for a pilot to down a drink around the runway is at The Hangar, a sports bar in a strip mall on Scottsdale and Thunderbird roads – albeit one with an aviation theme.

Turns out hangars are much like the prosperous people who party in them: all business through the workweek, with the occasional wild revelry on the weekends. May says the relative seclusion of the hangar allows jet-setters to let their hair down in private – particularly important for corporate event planners in the wake of the AIG public relations disaster of 2008, when the insurance giant was caught squandering a half-million dollars of its $85 billion Federal Reserve bailout on a bacchanal at a five-star beach resort.

“Not that these companies are doing anything bad in the hangars,” May stresses. “But sometimes, especially if your company has had some bad press, you don’t want photos out there of your CEO having a Scotch or smoking a cigar in celebration. In a hotel, you have no privacy. You have foot traffic, you have paparazzi. If you bring a headline entertainer in, everybody in the hotel is trying to get into the ballroom to see who it is.

“In a hangar,” she says, “no one gets in that you don’t want in.”