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Wedding venues face max capacity of 50 people in new wave of restrictions in Marion County

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The restrictions announced Thursday by Marion County health officials are a setback for small businesses like wedding venues, festivals and conventions, which are limited to just 50 people unless they get a safety plan approved from the county health department.

That limit had been 250 people, which means a number of brides and grooms might be scrambling.

Mo Alrosan and Charlotte Williamson were checking out the Biltwell Event Center Thursday afternoon. They got engaged the day before Halloween.

“He was being extremely nice so I felt something was happening,” Williamson said with a laugh.

But even 3 years of being together doesn’t prepare one for this, planning a wedding during a pandemic.

“Weird environment,” Alrosan said. “The biggest thing right now is how many people we really want there.”

If they got married this weekend, they could have 250. But come Monday, it will be 50. They hope to get married July 9, 2021.

“It’s pretty hard to schedule places to go and get together to plan the wedding we want to have,” Alrosan said.

It’s been hard at the Biltwell too.

The event center reopened in June, then was able to start hosting larger events about two months ago.

“It was great to see people finally gather,” said Mark Mattingly, director of the Biltwell. “We’re in the business of celebrating and social gatherings so it was great for our staff and for all of us to see all our clients happy.”

In the face of so many layoffs nationwide, the Biltwell has a unique story.

Even as business dried up, Mattingly said the owner kept all 45 employees working. Instead of serving people, he put them to work building tables, sanding and staining floors and beams, cleaning the brick walls.

Still, weddings this summer and fall have been a big boost because corporate events which made up 40% of last year’s business have dried up completely.

“We have made it. We’ll continue to make it,” Mattingly said. “Our little catchphrase is Biltwell Strong and we’ll be here through all of it.”

Still, with a regular occupancy of 1,000 people, there’s a 200-person difference the 50 people the Biltwell will be allowed and the 25% capacity the Biltwell would be allowed if it was considered a museum, bowling alley or music venue.

“I think that would have been nice to see more of a sliding scale based on your physical space,” Mattingly said.

Mattingly said they’ll keep following the rules.

Now, Alrosan and Williamson have a big decision ahead knowing, even 8 months out, things could change with little notice.

“I wouldn’t be terribly disappointed, kind of expected,” Williamson said.

“People’s safety is number one so if something is not safe to go into, we’re not going to do that,” Alrosan said. “Postponing to a later date where everyone is safe, where everyone can have fun and we don’t have to be looking over our shoulder, it’s not something we want people to feel like at our wedding. We have to do what we have to do for the good of all people.”

The 50-person limit in Marion County applies to special and seasonal events like weddings, festivals, conventions and sporting events, unless there’s an approved safety plan.

All other social gatherings are limited to a maximum of 25 people.

Mattingly said the Biltwell is pretty full with weddings next year since so many couples have postponed events in 2020. Those who have cancelled have received a full refund.