"The engineers were concerned about the live load in the parking deck instead of a static load," said Lane, who is helping to organize the planned flea market series. Lane said the group of merchants is exploring with city officials the idea of using the city parking lot across Potomac Street from the deck as an alternative.
In 2002, more than 500 tickets were sold for a Blues Fest kickoff event, according to published reports. Bender said while it was well attended, event organizers were carefully monitoring the number of tickets and people to ensure attendance did not exceed 999.
With 1,000 people or more, said Hagerstown Fire Marshal Tom Brown, the fire department might not have been able to evacuate the crowd rapidly enough in the event of an emergency.
"The parking deck was not designed as an assembly occupancy, it was designed as a storage occupancy," Brown said.
Brown said he feared larger crowds would bottleneck at the structure's two stairway entrances in the event of an emergency. Brown said his office prohibited any vehicles from being parked in the deck during the kickoff due to concerns a vehicle fire on the lower levels would quickly spread from one vehicle to the next, trapping event-goers above it. The measure also cleared the ramps for use as secondary exits in the event of an emergency.
An engineer's report prepared for the city concluded the structure might not be able to handle the weight of a large crowd.
"When they did that, you had to be really careful because the deck was designed to park cars on, not to hold hundreds of people," city Engineer Rodney Tissue said. "It was a significant issue to look into, and we had to limit the number of people."
After the 2002 event, the city moved the kickoff to the parking lot across the street. Hagerstown Public Information Manager Karen Giffin said other logistical issues influenced the relocation.
"We did outgrow it. We were only allowed 999 people, and we outgrew it," she said. "Last year, we went to the lot and it's a lot easier."
Bender said while groups could still seek to hold events at the parking deck, they would need to convince city officials, including the city attorney and members of council, the engineering department and fire department. Unlike the city-sponsored Blues Fest, there are added liability concerns if groups unaffiliated with the city seek to hold events there, he said.