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College Road Trip: All That Bracket

By Selena Fragassi


Think you have your brackets ready? Consider these big league universities that are competitive in more ways than one. For meeting planners, they offer a wealth of unique spaces, services and activities that makes them a slam dunk every time.

University of Colorado Boulder (Boulder, Colorado)

If you’re a fan of University of Colorado sports, you know about Ralphie the Buffalo. The mascot is so loved that the Boulder campus recently memorialized him in the shape of a new outdoor pool. “You can now enjoy a leisure swim in Ralphie,” chuckles Kylee Thomas, director, CU Conference Services. It’s just part of the package at the newly renovated recreation center that also includes a rock climbing wall, ice skating rink, indoor practice field and four-court basketball gymnasium with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Flatiron foothills.

In January, another grand reopening celebrated the Glen Miller Ballroom in the University Memorial Center. “At 9,400 square feet it’s the largest ballroom in the city of Boulder,” says Thomas. Both are open to incoming groups, which normally range from 50-2,000 guests have enjoyed dealing with a certified One-Shop Stop department. “The majority of our conference coordinators have 10-plus years of experience on this campus,” says Thomas, “so they are experts beyond just coordinating logistics.”

Oregon State University (Corvallis, Oregon)

In addition to having a thriving athletics program, Oregon State University is one of the only (besides Cornell) to hold all four land, sea, sun and space grant designations, says Kavinda Arthenayake, director of university conference services. “So, it’s a unique campus to bring a conference to, with a lot of tie-ins to the university.” As such, the campus has welcomed a number of academic programs, but Arthenayake stresses complete flexibility in coordinating any event. “We can even do programs off campus,” he says, referencing one client’s 150-person road trip across the state. Just 90 minutes from Portland and 50 minutes from the coast, there’s a plethora of vineyards, beaches, even a local baseball team to enjoy.

Onsite, though, the campus is unparalleled with a number of meeting spaces for 5 to 1,400 people including 80,000 square feet of combined, year-round conference space, the LaSells Stewart performing arts center and a private Hilton Garden Inn offering 153 beds. “In a few years we could have a second hotel onsite too,” says Arthenayake. As well, a $65 million classroom building currently in the works also promises state-of-the-learning spaces.

UCLA (Los Angeles, California)

It will be the biggest sporting event to come to L.A. since the Summer Olympic Games of 1984—and when the Special Olympics arrive to (in?) the city in a couple of months, they will be held on the campus of UCLA.

“We’ll be feeding and housing 3,700 athletes and coaches who will also be using our meeting spaces and athletic venues,” says Jason Walley, director of conference services. “In a way it’s like putting together a very complex meeting.”

At the forefront will be Pauley Pavilion, the home of UCLA’s basketball team available for large-scale events, meeting and entertainment for crowds up to 12,000 people. Elsewhere the campus has 70,000 square feet of meeting space (including the Palisades Ballroom) and 6,000 sleeping rooms with a boutique guesthouse for summer visitors.

Off-campus there’s plenty to see and do, too. “We’re close to the shopping and entertainment of Beverly Hills and Santa Monica and walking tours of the arts district and historic tours of Hollywood,” says Walley. For the sports-minded folks, “we can build active programs, too,” he says noting an onsite ropes course and sailing and kayaking at the marina.

University of Utah (Salt Lake City, Utah)

Outdoor sports are as vast as the great outdoors around Salt Lake City. “There are six ski areas just 25 minutes from us, and public transportation to always get you there,” says Perry Hacker, director of the onsite University Guest House and Conference Center. There are also national parks including Zion, Bryce Canyon and Arches. “Once you get out west, you can get to all sorts of places pretty fast,” says Hacker.

When there is time to slow down, the university hosts the state’s natural history museum and the state arboretum for reflective moments, and the exclusive 180-room University Guest House has hotel-style accommodations for further relaxation. The attached 30,000-square-foot conference center also provides hotel-level service for business clients. “We can do full video and sound recording, full A/V and rooms are wired for anything you can imagine,” says Hacker. “There are few places that operate the same way we do.”

In the early part of 2016, Hacker’s team will expand on that mission again by offering the high-end Wall Mansion that will be used as a retreat center for meetings up to 300 people. Says Hacker, “It continues to show the diversity in facilities we manage.”

University of Washington (Seattle, Washington)

The University of Washington just got a little more competitive with the recent expansion of a new construction housing district called the “West Campus.” Here, Lander Hall offers rooms with private baths and upgraded furniture, wireless Internet and a 24-hour front desk suited for guests with varying travel itineraries. “We call it a ‘city within a city,’” says Ebony White, conference coordinator, pointing out the full-service grocery store/coffeeshop called District Market and a sit-down restaurant, Cultivate, that offers ingredients from the university’s own garden.

For conference guests with stricter budgets or those looking for a more communal atmosphere, the “North Campus” is also available offering more traditional style residence halls and an all-you-care-to-eat dining facility. In addition to the One-Stop Shop certified service, the university’s location is also a big draw for many tech-heavy clients.

“We’re close to downtown so guests can go to the city and see where Starbucks and Nordstrom’s first started,” says White. “And for guests that are here for a longer period they can go to the San Juan Islands or wine country and see what the northwest is really known for.”

U.C. Berkeley (Berkeley, California)

U.C. Berkeley will soon be able to promote its draft of new, with the January 2016 re-opening of the campus’ student union comprised of three buildings and the 9,000-square-foot Pauley Ballroom for 550 seated, 1,000 standing (the second largest in the East Bay Area). “I get questioned a few times a week about when is it opening,” says Vivi Nordahl, associate director of events. “It’s a very popular option for conferences and weddings. It often gets booked twice a day, three times in the summer.”

The university will also offer its first exclusive in-house caterer, Chartwells, later this fall. “They’ll do everything from boxed lunches to plated dinners,” says Nordahl. Or for those guests who want a taste of the town, she says, “we are right in the heart of the downtown area where there’s a multitude of different ethnic food options.” If you’re looking for a show after, check out the movie theatre and karaoke nearby or head back to campus for one of the musical performances or TED Talks. Says Nordahl, “There’s always something happening here.”

Get Connected

Oregon State University
(541) 737.2401

Event Services at U.C. Berkeley
(510) 643.9149

University of California, Los Angeles
(866) 825.5305

University of Colorado Boulder
(303) 492.5151

University of Utah
(801) 587.2980

University of Washington
(206) 543.7636