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Submitted by todd on Thu, 08/07/2014 - 00:07Tweet
Even in an ice storm, the staff at Millennium Centre can melt away a planner’s worries and stress to produce a successful and memorable affair. Such was the case when the Johnson City, Tennessee venue (which also has a dedicated, IACC-certified conference center) hosted the Mountain State Foundation’s Spirit Gala in January, one of the premiere events in the region. The annual black tie event benefits the local children’s hospital to raise money for specialized equipment needed for its patients.
While the inclement winter weather might have proved disastrous, “we turned it into an all-hands-on-deck operation,” confirms Ken Misterly, general manager. Yet that has pretty much been the Centre’s M.O. since the beginning, having hosted the annual fete for the past decade, which provides a number of benefits to the foundation’s committee. “We have history with this event, and we know what the organizer expects and what attendees have experienced in past years and can then exceed expectations,” says Misterly.
Indeed, one of the challenges is coming up with a new program each year that presents a fresh experience for returning patrons—a reason why they start working on the agenda 10 months in advance. “When you have a high-end ticket, and we’re talking $300 a person, and those people are buying and paying for auction items and also going to a number of events with similar menus multiple times a year, the strategy becomes figuring out how to jazz up the gala and keep it at that same high level so each occasion is a memorable in its own right.”
Misterly says his team is essential in that regard, most having been with the Millennium Centre for five-plus years, which helps provide consistency when there are rotating committee heads within the Mountain State Foundation, all of whom have their own vision. “Our team will help develop those ideas,” says Misterly, pointing to an example during the planning sessions for this year’s masquerade-themed format, called Tiempo de Fiesta. “One of the goals for the event was to foster more interaction amongst the attendees. The typical setup of 10 round tables wasn’t working because guests would purchase all the seats at the table and therefore knew whom they were sitting with and didn’t mingle. So we presented a family-style setup with long tables for all 350 attendees, and we received really positive feedback on the arrangement.”
The night altogether raised $232,000 in proceeds, helped in part by the various auctions, including a pre-arranged silent auction and a second, live format. “The silent version is held two weeks prior; it’s so large that we can’t have it at the same time as the gala because no one would eat dinner,” which was a formal, plated presentation. During the live auction, items including jewelry, guitars and vacations were bid upon, as well as one special addition provided by the Millennium Centre itself. “We donated a gourmet, seven-course dinner for 12 guests, prepared by our very own Master Chef Jean-Claude Seruga,” says Misterly. Seruga has become one of the most competitive assets the Centre has, trained in Paris and having gathered quite a local following in recent years.
Thanks to Seruga, Misterly says, “planners know we are bringing a higher level of culinary knowledge to the table. What we offer them is the chance to do a high-end fundraiser that they won’t find elsewhere in the region.” As well, with their own staff of professional planners, the Millennium Centre’s team is always attentive to details and sensitive to the fact that everything needs to be executed with precision. “Planners have the confidence to know we can deliver what they need,” even with those rare blips come out of nowhere. When managed well though, no one ever knows—and that’s the real surprise.