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College Road Trip: Sunny Days Ahead

By Selena Fragassi


Going south for the winter? There’s a reason why birds do it—because there’s so much more to explore in the state that gloats a year-round summer. From wildlife sanctuaries to custom concierges for theme parks and sandy beaches, there’s no shortage of activities (and amenities) for groups convening at these campuses in the Sunshine State.

University of Florida, Gainesville
“We’re not Orlando, so I can’t promise you Mickey Mouse,” jokes Robert Ostrow, assistant director of housing operations for the university. Yet, as he talks about all the nature and incredible spaces on campus, you soon realize there is something even more magical for guests to experience here.
“We have our own lake, Lake Wauburg, which is owned by the university. Guests can rent canoes, start up a game in the vol- leyball pits and there’s even a meeting space at this site as well.” For conferences, the university welcomes groups from 50 to 3,000 people and offers the largest campus residence hall system in the southeastern U.S. “Each of our 16 buildings has its own meeting spaces inside, so guests can work and stay in the same contained unit,” says Ostrow.

Coming in 2015 is an additional residence hall with a floor spe- cially created for guests with physical disabilities. It’s just another way Ostrow and his team are trying to make a lasting impression. “Once you step foot on our campus, it’s hard to forget about us.”

University of North Florida, Jacksonville
(Adam W. Herbert University Center)

Want an urban safari? Come to this Jacksonville campus, which also doubles as a wildlife sanctuary and 1,000-acre nature pre- serve with incredible views to take it all in. “We are right on the water, and we have a lake outside of our building, which makes the space great for leadership retreats,” says Katie Chenard, assis- tant director of marketing and events, noting other opportunities include a ropes course and 9-hole golf course.

Specifically, the university center—named for a revered former school president—is considered a public forum. “Our venue is the community center where the Jacksonville com- munity and our students can have events together,” Chenard explains. Of use are 35 meeting rooms in a fully-fledged con- ference center. “Two of those are ballroom or banquet-style rooms, the largest offering 9,700 square feet of space to ac- commodate groups of up to 400 for a conference or 700 for a lecture.” Planners who book with Chenard and her team can look forward to one other convenience: “We are One-Stop- Shop certified, which makes the process so much easier.”

University of Central Florida, Orlando
The university might as well have a banner that reads, “Summer, year round,” jokes Dorothy Loman, coordinator of UCF Continuing Education. It’s not just for the tempera- ture (which on average stays about 70-80 degrees all year), but also for the incredible attractions minutes away.
For groups that want to see Disney World, the Kennedy Space Center and Daytona Beach, Loman and her team offer a unique concierge service. “We can work with the groups to find the best hotels for any outside visits, with all the same attention to detail we’d provide here on campus,” she says, noting many attendees bring their families and tack on a vacation after.

Back onsite, planners will be happy to find a variety of meeting spaces and some of the best technology around. “We can arrange to do a live stream for people who can’t make the conference,” says Loman. As well, a staff designer can help create banners, signage and logos while another team member can offer video and photo services. “This way, groups can have highlight footage to share long after the ses- sions have wrapped.”

Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers
Although this campus is situated near the Everglades, there are other reasons it’s known for being green, including a 15- acre solar field that provides 85% of the energy needed to run the Engineering and Business building as well as ser- vicing air-conditioning through chiller plants. “It saves us hundreds of thousands of dollars and is appealing to people that are looking for campus spaces which coincide with their own green missions,” explains Ruth Rodrigues, director of campus reservations.

Another appealing feature? An onsite wine tasting room, which is part of the hospitality management department and also open to guests. “It was modeled after a room in the Napa Valley Branch of the Culinary Institute of America,” Rodrigues explains, noting an expansive wine cellar just outside the doors.

After a long day of conferences (or wine tastings), groups will enjoy the Northlake Village residences, four-bedroom apartments with a full kitchen and full living room that, like all of the residence halls, were built after 1997 with modern amenities. Even better, says Rodrigues, “A number of them are right on the beach!”

Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne
This centrally located campus is a One-Stop Shop in more ways than one. Not only are they certified as such by the Association of Collegiate Conference and Events Directors-International (ACCED-I), but the full range of amenities on campus also make a group stay just as conve- nient. “You can literally show up on campus, have your five-day meeting, sleep here, eat here, meet here and do all of your work in an environment that really fosters learning,” says Erica Spencer, director of the conference services bureau. As an added bonus, she says, “We can tap into our student population for volunteers and use our faculty and staff members for speakers.”

The campus offers 65-plus meeting spaces, including a variety of classrooms, five auditorium- style rooms, a performing arts center and an adaptable gymnasium, which has hosted a number of galas and expos in its time. Yet, according to Spencer, some of the most unique spaces the institute offers are a botanical garden, chapel and a rooftop observatory. “This is what sets us apart from any hotel or traditional meeting venue.”