“I love it when a venue can help create wonderful memories for my attendees,” says Lupe Downing, senior sales event manager at Quotient Technology Inc., summing up why a venue’s unique characteristics matter.
Whether that unique quality derives from the venue’s location, decor, architecture, history, ambience or other attributes, the result is the same. A venue that takes attendees away from the ordinary and into the extraordinary creates memories that stay with them long after the event — and helps them to retain the goals and purpose of the event as well.
“I love it when a venue can help create wonderful memories for my attendees,” Lupe Downing
As lovely as some ballrooms, pool decks and event lawns can be, they’re all essentially the same, and it doesn’t take even a novice attendee long to experience them as ‘same old.’ That’s exactly why planners are always on the lookout for that singular venue that stands out and elevates an event far above the expected.
Quotient Technology Inc.’s national sales meeting early last year, which included 188 attendees, was set at Meritage Resort and Spa in California’s Napa Valley. To start, the destination and resort were an excellent fit for this group.
“Napa Valley is always an appealing location, especially since my group comes from all over the United States,” Downing says. “And the resort checked off many boxes of things I was looking for to run a successful program. It encompasses everything needed to create a great experience for a large, diverse group. Its amenities, charm, layout and service level make it a top choice for my program.”
And, she adds, “While the Meritage is tucked away in a business park, you would never know it. You truly feel like you’re in a fancy resort in wine country. It does a great job of marrying wine country appeal and business.”
Downing notes that having two ballrooms available to her was ideal as it allowed for multiple breakouts and varying setups required for different parts of the meeting. “Two ballrooms met the needs of our ever-changing schedule. From a boardroom meeting to a large general session and everything in between, the resort was able to accommodate.”
Within the resort’s 80,000 sf of indoor and outdoor event space, Downing says Carneros Ballroom is a favorite. “Carneros Ballroom was my go-to choice as it’s beautiful, well laid out and fit all of my breakout needs as well.”
But Spa Terra and Grand Estate Cave really set the bar high for the meeting. “The spa and wine cave are true jewels of the property,” Downing says. “My guests were wowed by them.”
The wine cave served as the setting for an awards dinner. Approximately 125 guests attended. Downing describes the set-up as a mix of tall and low farm tables, benches and chairs, as well as a small stage for the DJ, a dance floor, buffet/bar and selfie wall. “There was white with green ambience up-lighting, and the decor was simple and rustic, with plaid linens and succulent centerpieces.”
The group used A/V for sound, “and there were videos playing on a few LCD screens on poles,” Downing notes. “The wine cave at The Meritage, while being a unique venue, lends itself well for a variety of events. No matter what takes place here, the one constant is its warm and welcoming ambiance.”
In addition to the wine cave, Downing points out that there are other exceptional spots for different kinds of activities. “We can’t forget bowling at Crush Lounge, the resort’s casual venue with six bowling lanes, and there’s the well-thought-out [tasting] Village across the street,” she says.
She added that her attendees also appreciated, “wine upon check-in, being able to walk in a vineyard and all of the resort’s unique spaces.”
To anyone considering the Meritage Resort and Spa, Downing says, “Absolutely utilize the unique venue spaces. Get creative as to where you host your meeting; weather permitting, use the outside venues. Your guests will love it. Crush Lounge and the taco truck for a casual event are a must. There are also several great wineries not far from the resort in Carneros Valley, including Domaine Carneros, Artesa and Etude, all of which can handle large groups, so you’re covered.”
My goal, she says, “is always to bring this group together in a setting where they can have successful, impactful, motivating meetings while also having an equal balance of taking in the local culture, cuisine and more. The Meritage Resort and Spa has exactly what’s needed.”
Kathryn Gleesing, MBA, CMP, president and CEO of DM-Connection & Events in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, worked with a corporate group from Georgia last fall. There were 450 attendees and the group was based at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center.
“Milwaukee in a very affordable and accessible destination and is centrally located within a day’s drive of 1/3 of the U.S. population,” Gleesing says. “Milwaukee provides great value for your meeting dollar with hotel, food and beverage, and top-notch entertainment options, for attendees. With hotel rooms connected by skywalk to the convention center and additional rooms within a 1⁄2 mile of the center, Milwaukee has hotel properties to meet any need. There are also more than 200 restaurants in downtown Milwaukee, providing plenty of food options. Fiserv Forum, the new state-of-the art arena and home to the Milwaukee Bucks, hosts many top-name concert acts, and there’s also a theater district downtown where you can enjoy a Broadway play.”
The Hilton Milwaukee City Center is connected by skywalk to the Wisconsin Center and centrally located downtown, making it a good location for the group. But when it was time to choose a space for a reception, the choice was The Garden, across the river.
“The venue was chosen because my client wanted a unique space for a reception with the option to take attendees to a restaurant close by. This venue and restaurant are owned by the same group, so it worked out well for the private event. The space has a floor-to-ceiling sculpture and a lighting system that will turn the sculpture into any color for the event. In this case, my client wanted a gold tone look to complement the decor we selected for the evening reception.”
This group, Gleesing adds, “always seeks out unique venues for its event. We were on the hunt a year before the conference to identify and book that unique space, and we eventually found it at The Garden.”
It was definitely a success. “The attendees loved The Garden and commented on the decor, lighting and entertainment we had that evening, the Jenny Thiel Trio,” Gleesing says. “We used lighting to provide warmth to the room, and added elements in the linens and table decor and furniture to pull in the upscale sophistication theme for the evening. The addition of a light jazz trio for background music really brought the room alive while still allowing attendees to mingle.”
Gleesing says staff at The Garden was responsive on the evening of the event and helped make everything run smoothly. “And the waitstaff/bartenders at Carnevor restaurant were exceptional and worked well together as each pre-selected entrée was served to the guests”
Gleesing encourages planners to consider The Garden, as well as Milwaukee itself, which she says has many unique spaces from which to choose. “Milwaukee is a hidden gem sitting on the shores of Lake Michigan, otherwise known as ‘The Fresh Coast.’ Being home to many famous beer barons, a favorite place to hold a small reception is the historic Miller Caves, an underground area within the MillerCoors Brewery complex. There’s also the Capt. Frederick Pabst Mansion, an 1892 historic mansion where many themes and costumes can make your event memorable. And you can hold a street party on the grounds of the Harley-Davidson Museum,” Gleesing says.
In addition, she adds, “There’s Discovery World, a new pavilion event space where you can have a thunderstorm during your event and not get wet and Milwaukee County Zoo, where you can have a ‘feast with the beasts.’”
VISIT Milwaukee, the city’s CVB, also has a list of new meeting and event venues, as well as venues that have recently been renovated or updated. Once you choose a venue, Gleesing advises planners to work with local experts who know the city, including a preferred catering vendor. “They know the venue well and can be a great resource for your event,” she says.
In San Antonio, Texas, there are also many venues that could rightly be labeled unique. River Walk is a one-of-a-kind place for an event. But Kimberly Wichern, owner of Brentwood, Tennessee-based Regius Events, has another option that also fits that bill: Pearl Stable. That’s where she organized a function for a group of 120 based at Omni La Mansión del Rio. “My client’s attendees are primarily West Coast-based, so the San Antonio area is conducive and cost effective for air travel. In addition, the Southwestern climate and River Walk venue allowed for numerous after-hours leisure activities,” Wichern says.
With nearly all major carriers offering multiple daily flights into the city, she says, “San Antonio is easily accessible. The Omni La Mansión del Rio is beautifully situated along the popular River Walk, providing access to restaurants, nightlife, shopping and activities all within walking distance. This convenience mitigates much of the additional transportation costs associated with large group meetings.”
The Pearl Stable, located north of downtown, is a 22-acre, mixed-use site that served as a brewery operation from 1883 to 2001. The historic site was a rather grand home to the brewery’s draft horses in the late 1800s. The fact that the client was in the international agriculture industry made it a good fit, but the complex has great appeal for other reasons as well.
“As a mixed-use destination, the Pearl Stable offered the attendees a wide variety of on-site dining, shopping and entertainment options while also accommodating the client’s specific conference and business needs,” Wichern says. “The proximity to River Walk and downtown San Antonio added another layer of multifaceted entertainment that covered the full spectrum of individual tastes.”
She says the history behind Pearl Stable added to the intrigue and appeal to her client. “This venue was a perfect blend of rustic charm with modern conveniences. The spacious dining areas were complemented by some of the original fixtures, which added to the allure,” Wichern says.
They looked at a number of venues in the San Antonio area, but Pearl Stable checked all the right boxes. “The Pearl Stable stood out as a unique combination of functional dining and mingling areas with a rustic charm and comfortable feel. It also allowed for a variety of conversation areas to accommodate different group sizes, which made it ideal for my client. I’m always looking for that ‘wow’ factor for my clients when I plan an event, and The Pearl Stable gave my attendees just that,” Wichern says.
The group used the lower-level dining area and the foyer/entry for initial gatherings and networking. Some guests explored the upper level for viewing and photos. “Our clients were very pleased with Pearl Stable, from both a business functionality perspective, and entertainment and leisure perspective,” Wichern notes. “We received comments about the unique charm and appeal the venue has.”
To planners considering The Pearl Stable, she advises, “Be sure to take advantage of the available space and layout options to maximize the effectiveness of your meetings. Think outside the box when it comes to speakers, presentations or award ceremonies. The Pearl Stable is a unique and impressive venue that Regius would recommend without reservation.”
Happily for planners, destinations across the country and beyond have out-of-the-ordinary spaces. In New York City, there’s only one Grand Central Station, an impressive architectural gem with its vaulted painted ceilings, arches, tiles and chandeliers. Vanderbilt Hall, off the 42nd Street and Park Avenue entrance, is a stunning space ideal for corporate receptions and events. It can be viewable to the public, such as for product launches, or closed off for a very private awards or fundraising affair. It also hosts corporate-sponsored indoor sports events.
Ellis Island and Liberty Island need no introduction as unique settings. Because they are national monuments, working with a local DMC familiar with regulations governing their use is highly recommended. Small groups might choose the conference space overlooking Ellis Island’s Great Hall or the newer Statue of Liberty Museum. The islands accommodate 50 to 1,200 attendees.
Not only does Baha Mar in the Bahamas have three distinct hotels — Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, SLS Baha Mar and Rosewood Baha Mar — it also has a private island and two yachts. Long Cay is a 15-acre island a short boat ride from the hotels, where attendees can relax in the sun, splash in the sea, get massages, play sports, dine and sip tropical drinks. The island is fully staffed with butlers and attendants — and is ideal for an activity-filled day trip or barefoot-elegant cocktail party. Don’t forget the sunscreen and logoed hats, towels or beach cover-ups.
The 213-foot Eternity I and 65-foot Eternity II can remain docked or sail through the turquoise waters while guests enjoy cocktails and the sublime views. Both can also accommodate single-day or multi-day private trips for groups. Eternity I has a 20-foot pool and every luxury appointment desired — including onboard staff to cater to participants.
Industrial loft conversions may share architectural attributes, but they’re not all the same. The 15,000-sf Moonlight Studios in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood provides an urban chic ambience with exposed brick walls and high ceilings and can be divided between multiple rooms. The largest space is 6,000 sf. Complimentary basic lighting, traveling I-beam crane system, high-capacity rigging system, catwalks and Wi-Fi are available.
Greenhouse Loft in Avondale is the choice for groups with sustainability as a priority. With LEED Platinum certification, it’s Chicago’s most sustainable meeting and event venue. Hardwood floors, refurbished vintage furniture and soaring, floor-to-ceiling windows provide an inspired backdrop. The glasshouse and loft portions together accommodate 250 attendees for a reception or 200 theater-style. The 8,000-sf outdoor garden can be reserved for private events after 5 p.m.
Brooklyn Bowl in Las Vegas is undeniably cool with its vintage design and 32 bowling lanes. The space accommodates up to 2,500 attendees and there are VIP areas if privacy is key. No fancy dining here; it’s all about comfort food with fried chicken and traditional sides. Production capabilities are state-of-the-art.
At The Neon Museum, the huge collection of iconic Las Vegas signs is the unique backdrop for business events. The facility can handle up to 250. If you book the outdoor ‘boneyard’ space, you’ll have access to a security team.
Located downtown, MEET Las Vegas accommodates up to 1,000 and offers plenty of tech options, including digital media displays and excellent Wi-Fi connectivity. The three-story, 40,000-sf venue can be customized to a planner’s specifications, meaning a group can use it more than once and have a different experience each time.
The 1,500-acre Presidio in San Francisco offers glorious close-up views of the Golden Gate Bridge. A former military post, many of the Presidio’s original structures remain, and a golf course is among the amenities. Planners have multiple unique spaces to choose from, including the Golden Gate Club, Log Cabin, Commissary and Presidio Officer’s Club. Built in 1949, the Golden Gate Club’s options include a buyout of all 8,587 sf accommodating up to 845 attendees, or booking individual spaces range from 300 sf to 2,736 sf. The Log Cabin was constructed in 1937. Rustic with a Spanish red-tile roof, this popular venue accommodates up to 200 standing, 150 for a banquet. There’s also a classroom, theater and boardroom, along with outdoor space.
The James R. Herman Cruise Terminal at Pier 27 has been the setting for many spectacular events. The massive terminal can accommodate up to 4,000 cruise ship passengers, but when no ship is in port, it serves as a nearly blank canvas for whatever theme, decor or entertainment a planner can imagine. Multiple entrance lobbies allow for multiple events; security screening equipment is available for high-security functions, and there are mobile check-in booths. Highly flexible, the space can be divided in multiple ways.
In San Diego, the USS Midway Museum’s most impressive space is the massive 4-acre flight deck rising 50 feet above the water and featuring a 360-degree panorama, restored naval aircraft and remarkable history. Attendee capacity is up to 4,000 for receptions, up to 1,200 for seated functions. Indoors, the hangar deck gives attendees the opportunity to climb into a variety of cockpit exhibits and experience a flight simulator. It accommodates 150 to 1,500 depending on the format. Multiple conference and breakout rooms can also be booked in the ship’s meeting center.
Setting a function in a unique space enhances any event. It takes a little research, but the good news for planners is that it’s possible to find them in nearly every destination. C&IT