Centennial Arena is changed from ice rink to swanky banquet hall for the Peace Arch Hospital and Community Health Foundation's annual gala.

Centennial Arena is changed from ice rink to swanky banquet hall for the Peace Arch Hospital and Community Health Foundation's annual gala.

Getting set for the gala

Arena gets a healthy facelift

When guests walk into Centennial Arena Saturday night, they’re not likely to recognize it for the ice rink that it is.

Those attending Peace Arch Hospital and Community Health Foundation’s gala are expected to see an elegant ballroom lavishly embellished with lush flowers, decorated tables and a dance floor. Even the bathrooms are to be given a high-class makeover.

And while the transformation may be easy on the eyes, it’s not quite so effortless for the people making it happen.

The production of a 450-person event that requires 50 tons of food, supplies and equipment brought onsite by five semi-trailers may seem daunting to anyone. Throw in the fact that the fancy affair is hosted in an ice rink, and some could say you have a recipe for disaster.

But organizers manage to pull it off, much to the surprise of Siobhan Philips during her first taste of the local gala.

Philips remembers attending the event shortly after moving to the community from Ontario 2½ years ago. She had worked on a hospital gala in Kingston, and was used to such occasions being held in hotels and halls.

Her initial skepticism was short-lived, however, after stepping foot in the extravagant venue.

Now chair of the gala’s steering committee, Philips is helping to ensure that same awe is experienced by attendants this year.

She is working with more than a dozen committee members, some of whom are foundation staff.

Philips said the committee meets in November to discuss themes, but work doesn’t begin in earnest until about January, when they start soliciting businesses for auction items. While March and April are the busiest months for organizing, the actual set-up at Centennial Arena begins just days before the event.

With more than 20 years history – this will be the 22nd year – the gala’s assembly follows a tried, tested and true routine.

“They’ve got it down to a fine art,” Philips said. “It’s very well laid-out, very well orchestrated.”

Philips said the April 30 event will have an aubergine-elegance theme, with black and purple decor creating an atmosphere of royalty and swank.

The night is to be MCed by CBC’s Rick Cluff, and will include live music, a catered dinner, presentations and live and silent auctions with more than $100,000 in items, including one of the most popular, a dinner with former Canuck Trevor Linden.

“I’m shocked and heart-warmed and surprised at how supportive the community is to this event,” Philips said of the donations.

A new feature added this year is an auction for the best table in the house, which is to be bigger and better decorated than the others, and located front-and-centre on the floor.

The highest bidder will enjoy VIP treatment that includes a personal attendant, special wine parings and food, selection of the first song and gift bags.

“That will be the first order of business before sitting down for dinner,” Philips said.

Tickets for this year’s event sold out faster than ever before, she noted, with the last ones being picked up weeks ago.

Despite a high demand for tickets, Philips said the number available has remained the same to ensure an intimate experience.

“I don’t know if we’d ever want to make it bigger than that.”

Philips said the goal of the evening is to meet or exceed last year’s fundraising total of $140,000, with proceeds being directed to the funding of priority medical equipment for the hospital.

“It’s our hospital, it’s local,” she said. “If we don’t support it, we’ll lose it.”