Event Organizing – Getting an Event Permit


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So, the first question you should ask yourself is “Do you really need to get a permit?” and the second question you should ask yourself is “Do you really want to get a permit?” Depending on exactly what type of event you are planning, proceeding without a permit could be fine, or it could get you into trouble, or it could be a companion tactic to the message you are trying to convey to the public, the powers that be, etc. It is wise to remember that unpermitted events can succeed when either a) no one is watching you,

b) they are of a short duration, c) there are a lot of people involved, or d) they have a lot of public support.



It is probably wise to think about these things before you go through the permitting process because obtaining permits requires filling out annoying paperwork, costs money, requires dealing with the city bureaucracy, and generally supports the notion that it is okay for those in power to tell you whether or not you can use *public* property, which should be available to everyone, right?


This process applies only to PUBLIC property – i.e. government-owned sidewalks, streets, and public spaces such as parks, squares, etc. Unfortunately, in this age of corporate dominance, many of the spaces that appear public are actually owned by some private company and therefore totally outside of this process. The short answer for having events on private property is that the owner can do whatever they want and you as a non-owner have almost no right to protest whatever rules they make. A good example of private property in Pittsburgh is PPG Plaza (where the fountains are) and to use that space, you have to talk to PPG. Otherwise, most permits require you to go through the City of Pittsburgh Special Events Committee. However, depending on where you are planning on having your event, you may have to contact additional agencies (for example, the Sports & Exhibition Authority manages the Convention Center, so any events on that property require talking to them.) Usually if you start with the Special Events Committee and they don’t control the space you are seeking permission to use, they will direct you to the proper agency or require you to get approval from the governing agency in order to approve your permit.

Upon contacting the Special Events Committee, you will need to fill out a “Special Events Permit Application.” There are nine sections of this application and they cover the following information:


Section 1: Date, Time, and Location of Event, # of participants and what type of event it will be. Also, you will need to provide both federal and Pittsburgh tax id #s for the sponsoring organization.

Section 2: Contact information for both the individual and the organization sponsoring the event, and if it is be held on private property, contact info for the property owner.

Section 3: Location info for the event and the route if you are having a parade or march.

Section 4: Purpose of the event and history of recent events the organization has held.

Section 5: Services needed from the city (i.e. police to block traffic, close streets, etc.)

Section 6: What kind of entertainment will occur, and will it be amplified?

Section 7: More description of the activities at the event, will electricity be required, and plan for parking, trash removal, restrooms.

Section 8: Will anyone be selling anything at the event?

Section 9: Whether or not local community groups and businesses have approved the event, your plan to notify the local community, and what other organizations you have contacted about the event.


OTHER IMPORTANT INFO TO KNOW: It now costs at least $125 to get a permit from the city (they just raised the prices). Supposedly you can get an exemption or reduction in cost under the “indigency exemption,” so ask them about that when you contact the Special Events Committee. In general, you need to apply at least two weeks before your event in order for the Special Events Committee to have time to meet and contact all the necessary authorities. However, you can supposedly get an accelerated approval within two days if “you certify that an exigent circumstance has triggered a need for immediate activity protected by the First Amendment.” Sounds like you will need a lawyer for that one… so plan ahead!


<!–[if !supportLists]–>1) <!–[endif]–>The best chance of success is to have an established organization with a history of receiving permits agree to sponsor your event (i.e. Thomas Merton Center). They can provide the tax information and have an established relationship with the city.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>2) <!–[endif]–>Apply far in advance so you can find out early if you are rejected and negotiate with the Special Events Department on what you need to get your event approved.

  1. Look at other groups’ approved permit applications so you can get a better sense of what a good application looks like and what kind of info the city is looking for.
  2. Call the Special Events Committee contact person, currently it’s Nadine Brnilovich, and find out what info she needs or what questions the committee has, once you have submitted your application.



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