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The Best of the Rest

By Selena Fragassi


In our industry, it’s a hallmark to stand out from traditional meeting and event venues. Many times, these unique spaces do so on a daily basis without recognition.

We needed to change that. So, for the first-time ever in the history of the industry and our organization, Unique Venues assembled its very own Best Of 2014 awards, asking our readers to vote for their favorite venues in 25 distinct categories, from the best venue on a per diem to the best spot for a family reunion. CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL THE WINNERS AND THE RUNNERS UP!

Best Venue to Film a Movie 

WINNER: Boston University, Boston, MA

“Boston University was basically our back lot for [filming], and the cooperation we received was unprecedented,” says Charlie Harrington, a top location manager about working with the campus staff to film the Columbia Pictures movie “21.” Boston University has also been the setting for productions such as “The Social Network,” “Friday Night Lights” and “60 Minutes,” among others. While film and television crews can be a demanding audience, any surprise requests are met by a One-Stop Shop department that is versed in working with a number of service providers to make sure needs are met. “It gives us the opportunity to see how many things our campus can actually provide to clients,” says Nicolle Paeglow, associate director of events and conferences. // (617) 353.3520

Nipissing University | North Bay, ON
Iona College | New Rochelle, NY

Best Venue to Host a Meeting or Event on a Per Diem

WINNER: University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, CO

Budgets are a necessary, if not exasperating, part of the planning process. Yet venues like the  University of Colorado, Colorado Springs have systems in place that help ease the situation  and enable coordinators to stay in line. “We [are] transparent and upfront with our costs so  that each client can visualize their event without worrying about hidden fees,” says Andreanna  Romero, conference and event specialist. Whether accommodating a state or federal  agency, a nonprofit or conference group with limited funding, the department looks for cost  effective measures such as procuring goods and services and reducing overhead costs.  That doesn’t mean the campus cuts corners on spaces and services, though—they have welcomed  recent expansions including a new classroom building and parking garage and the launch of a  self-operated Dining & Food Service department. // (719) 255.4445

Salve Regina University | Newport, RI,
The Conference Center at Saint Vincent College | Latrobe, PA 

Best Venue for a Formal Affair

WINNER: Carnegie Hall, New York, NY

For black tie galas and high-profile events, venues can be just as dressed up—none more than the illustrious Carnegie Hall in New York. “For more than a century, the greatest entertainers in the world have taken the stages here, and the history and palpable legacy permeates within the space,” says Morgan Bedore, vice president of sales and creative development and part of the legendary Starr Restaurant group that oversees special events and menus at the venue. The landmark status has attracted both corporate and social planners to utilize the venue each year, with a number of spaces at their disposal. There are the classics such as the Shorin Club Room for 79 guests reception-style or 50 seated and the 220-cap Rohatyn Room, which features walls decorated with oversized posters of the noteworthy concerts. There are also new spaces such as the intimate May Room for 50 people and the skyline-facing Weill Terrace Room for up to 250 people. “Because our team works onsite, our familiarity with the spaces give planners an insider perspective,” says Stockton-Brown. // (212) 903.9600 

Metropolitan Centre | Calgary, AB
Dallas Museum of Art | Dallas, TX

Best Venue for Exhibitions and Tradeshows

WINNER: Georgian Conference and Event Services, Barrie, ON

The Aging Wellness Fair, Skor Food Tradeshow and Flanagan Tradeshow are just some of the examples of the 15-20 large scale productions Ontario’s Georgian College hosts on a yearly basis. All come to the campus, just 90 minutes from Toronto, for its unlimited space and flexibility. “We can transform our Student Athletic Centre into a 20,000-square-foot [grid] with column-free event space,” says Sara Tuck, manager of conference and event services. Here, the capacity allows for up to 110 booths, sized 10’ x 10’, that can fit pull-up banners, displays and even furniture. In addition to tradeshows, Georgian is also popular for conferences, meetings, youth/sports camps and religious retreats and corporate training. // (705) 728.1968

MacEwan University | Edmonton, AB
University of Maryland | College Park, MD 

Best Outdoor Event Space

WINNER: Lewis & Clark College, Portland, OR

According to the Princeton Review, Lewis & Clark College is one of the most beautiful campuses in the country, and the scenery starts at the moment of arrival. Guests are greeted by lavish gardens filled with fountains and flowers and a glamorous 1920s pool. There are three outdoor rooms available for rent: a stone terrace covered by a wisteria arbor that looks down to a reflecting pool popular for cocktail receptions or intimate weddings; the Great Plat Lawn, one of the largest garden venues in Portland (for up to 950 people), with rhododendron walls and a water lily fountain; and Cobblestone Circleused for artistic performances and ceremonies. Special events are welcome June through August; one of the most special was “a jazz club around the reflection pool at sunset,” says Kerry Parker Keenon, associate director of conference and events. “It was magical.” // (503) 768.7235

Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre | Vancouver, BC
The New York Botanical Garden | Bronx, NY 

Best Teambuilding Equipment and Programming

WINNER: Headspace, Calgary, AB

Want to create a large trust circle or human knot? Pull out bleachers and have improv theatre? Set up a human chain or fitness challenge? Create a yoga studio? Headspace can do all of that. “Our space is 100% customizable to meet the needs of each team,” says Chris Bedford, president and CEO of Karo Group that oversees Headspace. The 5,000-square-foot raw concept space also has a projection system and 15’ screen, PA and mixing board and a catering kitchen. The amenities have made it popular with clients such as Apple, Audi, Range Rover and Jaguar for teambuilding, trainings and planning sessions. The space is a “blank canvas,” says Bedford and can host up to 200 people. “We can do classroom-style, living room, boardroom, gym, dancefloor, stage — you name it. And to top it all off, Headspace is 100% solar-powered.” // (403) 541.2799


Rutgers University Inn & Conference Center | New Brunswick, NJ
University of Florida Conference Services | Gainesville, FL

Best Farm-to-Table Group Catering Offerings

WINNER: Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, Pittsburgh, PA

At Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the farmto-table dining program is so fresh, it was just launched this summer. Here the focus is on locally sourced ingredients for menus. “We use as much produce as possible from our own onsite Green Rooftop Edible Garden as well as a variety of local farms that participate in our Farmers at Phipps Market, held from June to October,” says Jonathan Crayton, general manager of leisure services for Sodexo, which services the venue. There’s no standard menu for any event, which makes it possible to get creative with each group. Familystyle seating is offered in either the Outdoor Garden or Special Events Hall, both accommodating up to 150 people. // (412) 622.6915

Chicago Botanic Garden | Glencoe, IL
University of Cailfornia, Davis | Davis, CA 

Best Place to Host an LGBT-Friendly Event

WINNER: Metropolitan Centre, Calgary, AB

Canada’s Metropolitan Centre has a lot of pride for the number of LGBT-friendly events it arranges each year, with many couples flocking to the luxury venue for their special wedding day. In addition, the multi-purpose space is also home to a large fall event, the Superheroes, Villains and Pride Halloween Gala.  “We have a lot of acceptance and willingness to host these events as opposed to other traditional downtown facilities,” says Tracey Wilkinson, head of sales. Onsite there is a ballroom for 350 seated or 500 reception-style as well as a lecture theatre for up to 150. // (403) 266.3876

University of Pennsylvania–Perelman Quadrangle | Philadelphia, PA
Delaware Art Museum | Wilmington, DE
Glenview Mansion & F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre | Rockville, MD

Best Place to Say ‘I Do’

WINNER: Younts Conference Center at Furman University, Greenville, SC

Finding the perfect wedding venue is one of the biggest challenges for any bride and groom. Luckily, Younts Conference Center at Furman University is available—and offering reduced rates on Fridays and Saturdays for even more incentive. “We offer wedding parties a lot of versatility,” says Director Kay Knight of the 40-plus ceremonies and receptions her team coordinates each year. That includes the use of the outdoor Heller Terrace and DeSantis Pavilion, an onsite chapel, numerous scenic locations for photo opportunities, free parking and an inclusive rental fee that offers everything “borrowed” for one flat rate. Says Knight, “Our center is easy to navigate and no one else is in the building during the reception, which makes the event even more intimate.” // (864) 294.2390

RUNNERS UP: Museum of Science and Industry | Chicago, IL
Notre Dame Conference Center and Morris Inn | Notre Dame, IN 

Best Venue in a Rural Location

WINNER: Lodge at Little Seneca Creek, Potomac, MD

It’s a bit country but also totally rocks for special events. The Lodge at Little Seneca Creek in Maryland is surrounded by 26 acres of wooded parkland, rolling hills and a bubbling creek. “You can get away from the hustle and bustle of the urban environment in this rustic and natural setting,” says Facility Manager Shelley Fisher. Inside there is a towering wood-burning fireplace for a cozy and intimate setting while outside the elegant Seneca Tent is installed every year from April to October to provide for a protected outdoor area for dining, dancing and special ceremonies. While the tent can accommodate 120-150 guests, the lodge can fit up to 175 depending on the room setup. A new bridal room with private washroom and ample space will be available in early 2015 as well. Although it’s away from the big city, Fisher says the Lodge has partnered with a number of area hotels for discounts, some of which also provide free shuttles. // (301) 563.7510

Emerald Lake Lodge | Field, BC
Colorado Mountain College | Leadville, CO
Lied Lodge & Conference Center | Nebraska City, NE

Best Venue to Go DIY

WINNER: Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, Vancouver, BC

You’d expect an art gallery to be supportive of getting creative with your food and décor—and Vancouver’s Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art doesn’t disappoint. Here, planners are allowed to transform the space into their own vision by choosing their favorite suppliers and caterers, “and there are no additional fees to do so,” says Paula Fairweather, director of marketing and sales. She further notes that “staff can assist in sourcing artists for cultural introductions or unique performances” as part of the program. Many, she says, opt to use First Nations caterers who can present traditional Northwest Coast cuisine, which aligns with the built-in ambiance of fixed and rotating displays that include jewelry, a soaring totem pole and various colorful paintings. Further amenities include the use of docents, a gallery gift shop, free Wi-Fi and basic presentation support. // (604) 682.3455


National Museum of Nuclear Science and History | Albuquerque, NM

Glenview Mansion & F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre | Rockville, MD 

Best Venue for the Latest & Greatest Technology

WINNER: MEET Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV

Upgrade is the name of the game at MEET Las Vegas. “We update our technology on a regular basis,” affirms Chrissy Meslener, director of marketing. Some of the high-tech features the three-floor venue offers include tele/data access points within every 10 feet and up to 100MBps Internet bandwidth, a specialized interior/exterior lighting infrastructure, portable and wall-mounted display monitors for signage, two plug-and-play classrooms with built-in workstations and upgraded projectors, audio mixing boards, microphones and speaker systems. Don’t fret—there’s also a team of help both in-house and freelance that can help you migrate all the special effects. “We have partners in Juniper, Cisco, Innovative Network Solutions, Shortel, Layer 3 and Aruba,” says Meslener. “And we can quickly load Windows 8, Windows 7, Linux, or even XP for our clients, depending on their needs.” // (702) 734.6338

Georgia Institute of Technology | Atlanta, GA
Ryerson Conference Services and Lodging | Toronto, ON 

Best Venue for Fitness Offerings

WINNER: The University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson, TX

“We believe fitness options are important to offer to groups to help them get energized or unwind from long days of classes or meetings,” says Pam McElrath, associate director of residential life. “Many of our groups utilize the fitness facilities during afternoon breaks or for organized evening activities. We also have the availability to host group classes within our housing facilities.” In addition, the University of Texas at Dallas has a comprehensive list of fitness equipment in two recreational centers with more than 150,000 square feet of space. This includes 100-plus cardio machines and free weights, five outdoor swimming pools, a 1,000-squarefoot climbing wall, 10 soccer fields, three outdoor basketball courts and 10 tennis courts (all lit at night) plus 30 different group exercise classes. The campus can arrange temporary memberships, reserve facilities and arrange for lifeguards as needed. // (972) 883.7419

Ithaca College | Ithaca, NY
Kenyon College | Gambier, OH

Best Training and Development Facility

WINNER: OFFSITE New York, New York, NY

When your team needs to get in the zone, go OFFSITE. “Our locations are designed and wired to foster productivity and inspire creativity in a way that no other venue can,” says Sarah Vaynerman, direction of communications. Open since July 2012, the New York facility has three levels tailored for collaboration, discussion and presentation, all open to the client. It includes a main floor with lounge seating, three LED Smart TVs, thick curtains providing for breakout sections and a stocked kitchen when you need an energy boost. The mezzanine level offers a state-of-the-art conference room table for 30 that can also be rolled away for an open area as well as floor-to-ceiling whiteboard walls and a SMART Board for high-tech interaction. Other features include a third, underground level, a library of reading material, accessible Wi-Fi and an on-call host that can print documents. // (646) 918.0625


Bowling Green State University | Bowling Green
Babson Executive Conference Center | Babson Park, MA 

Best Venue to Meet with Fewer than 100 People

WINNER: The Carriage House,
Washington, D.C.

When size does matter, The Carriage House in Washington,  D.C. is equipped to provide intimate quarters for smaller groups. The “modern meeting space in a  classic setting” can host as few as 5 in an upstairs conference room and as many as 70 people in the downstairs reception area; there’s also patio space for receptions. Plus, says Events and Digital Media Coordinator Laura McHugh, “We are tucked away from the hustle and bustle of one of D.C.’s busiest areas, the Dupont Circle neighborhood, which means Carriage House can be a quiet retreat and the ideal setting for small to mid-size meetings, workshops and conferences.” Recently they’ve hosted events for the U.S.

Institute of Peace and the National Science Foundation that were able to tap into amenities including wireless Internet service, coffee breaks and staff support. // (202) 319.8476 

AMA San Francisco Conference Center | San Francisco, CA
Tilson Conference Center | Greenwood, IN

Best Venue to Host a Youth Meeting or Sports Camp

WINNER: Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO

The youth of America are in good hands at Colorado State University. The campus has a number of parameters in place to make sure visiting groups of children are well attended to during their stay, which can average three to five nights. First the university requires a 12-1 adult-to-youth ratio at all times and provides every adult group leader with a green wristband to assist staff and young guests with quick identification. The layout of the one square mile
campus is also beneficial because it is self-contained with no major thoroughfares—and is walkable and bike friendly. “Our rec center is very appealing for our youth groups because of the lazy river pool and 55-foot climbing wall,” says Dezarai Brubaker, director. But even more important are the long-term goals, she says. “The experience gives potential college students firsthand experiences that can be valuable in making educational choices in the future.” // (970) 491.1378

Simon Fraser University | Burnaby, BC
National 4-H Youth Center | Chevy Chase, MD 

Best Venue for a Family Reunion or Gathering

WINNER: Silver Bay YMCA, Silver Bay, NY

Family time is at the heart of the Silver Bay YMCA located in the beautiful Adirondacks. Just ask the Eastham Family that celebrated their 50 th reunion this year.

“The wonderful part about the Silver Bay experience is how each family member can do their own thing and then get together for interfamily activities,” says one member. Specifically for children, there’s the Silver Camp day program, a craft shop and swim lessons; but all can come together for a scavenger hunt, beach party, square dance or trivia night. “Families can put their personal stamp on their reunion,” says Liz Hinck, sales and marketing director. Knowing that memories are also made around the family meal, Hinck says there are many options to choose from including a beach barbecue, formal dinner at the historic inn, campfire with s’mores, or even making a family recipe the dish du jour. // (518) 543.8833

Georgia International Horse Park | Conyers, GA
The Conference Center at George Williams College | Williams Bay, WI 

Best Newly Opened or Renovated Venue

WINNER: Tinkham Veale University Center, Cleveland, OH

Sometimes the best things are not only new but also novel. Such is the story of Tinkham Veale University Center, a 24-hour facility at Case Western Reserve University that recently opened to staff, students, faculty and visiting groups. The 83,000-square-foot building, named for an esteemed 1937 graduate, features four conference rooms, a video gaming room, a two-story media wall with a beacon and touch-interactive screen, a 7,500-square-foot ballroom with advanced A/V and sound systems, an amphitheater and a full-service restaurant and food court with outdoor seating and bar. The new center can host up to 750 for lectures and has flexible catering options. // (216) 368.0436

The Anvil Centre | New Westminster, BC
Atlanta Metropolitan State College Easley Pavilion | Atlanta, GA

Best Conference Center to Get Down to Business

WINNER: The Conference Center at Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ

When it’s time to the hit the books, there are venues ready to help you turn the page. The Conference Center at Montclair State University has a lot to offer clients, says Associate Director Kaitlin Kurdyla. “We pride ourselves on our price transparency, which includes a generous flat rate for setup, breakdown, housekeeping, A/V and a technician and site supervisor.” There is also parking, shuttles and food onsite for business guests, and interested planners can look forward to spaces such as the 500-person ballroom and prestigious presidential board room as well as breakout rooms, lecture halls and theaters. “One of our
most amazing features is our unique location with breathtaking views of the New York City skyline. We have trains and buses that run constantly for access to the city,” says Kurdyla. Some recent clients have included Apple, Verizon, even a “General Hospital” fan meet and greet. // (973) 655.3391


Conference Center at Waltham Woods | Waltham, MA
Metro Meeting Centers | Boston, MA 

Best College or University to Hold a Meeting or Event

WINNER: Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA

“It has been one of the best experiences of my life,” said one participant who attended a conference at Georgia Tech last summer. The sentiment is universal for many who convene on the Atlanta campus. “Georgia Tech is always seeking ways to enhance services for clients,” says Sravanthi Meka, marketing manager. That includes boasting a certified One-Stop Shop, onsite registration and access to a professional conference manager who leads planners through the early stages. The campus has small spaces including classes for 25-100 guests all the way to a 9,000-cap arena and a 1,100-seat performing arts center. Lodging is also available for more than 4,000 overnight visitors with traditional and apartment-style rooms. Location is an advantage, too. “Being in the heart of midtown Atlanta allows our conference services department to offer the best options,” says Meka. That includes working with the Georgia World Conference Center, the Georgia Dome and the Atlanta CVB to secure activities anywhere you want to go. // (404) 894.6675

MacEwan University | Edmonton, AB
UCLA | Los Angeles, CA 

Best Cruise Ship to Host Your Event at Sea

WINNER: Royal Caribbean, Miami, FL

When you want to mix business and leisure, look no further than a cruise ship. “About 82% of North Americans have never cruised, so this is an opportunity to create a memorable and unique experience,” says Lori Cassidy, director of global corporate, incentive and charter sales for the Royal Caribbean International line, one of the leaders with 22 ships that sail on three to seven night voyages. These resorts-at-sea offer something for everyone with activities like shopping at Coach® and GUESS® or zip lining, dining, entertainment including Broadway hits “Chicago” and “Mamma Mia,” spas and event spaces ranging from 400-person conference centers to the Studio B Ice Rink with stadium seating for up to 1,000 guests—and all at an affordable price. The new Quantum of the Seas vessel will be the first Smart Ship with advanced technology like satellite service to enhance wireless capacity, SMART Check-In and SMART Concierge that lets you access all the features with just your wristband. // (800) 762.0458

Carolina Girl Yacht | Charleston, SC 

Best Cultural or Historical Venue to Make History

WINNER: Dolce Hayes Mansion, San Jose, CA

Sometimes history repeats itself and sometimes it provides something entirely new as in the case of the Dolce Hayes Mansion that offers visiting guests the chance to be surrounded by a thrilling legacy. When the original 64-room mansion was completed in 1905, it was the home of the illustrious Hayes family who built their fortune in iron ore mining and was later involved in politics. The house was sold to the city of San Jose in 1985 and today is a private hotel and conference venue operated by Dolce Hotels and Resorts. Onsite, there is 33,000 square feet of indoor and 15,000 square feet of outdoor space with terraces and lawns available for rent.

Some of the memorable locations include an original drawing room, a library that serves as a lobby, an extravagant mosaic fireplace, historic photographs and original wood and décor from the early 20 th century. // (408) 362.2328

Navy Pier | Chicago, IL,
Springs Preserve | Las Vegas, NV 

Best Stadium or Arena to Have a Meeting/Event (and a Ball)

WINNER: FedExField, Landover, MD

If you want team camaraderie, look no further than a ballpark, arena or stadium for your next meeting or teambuilding session. At parks like FedExField, home of the Washington Redskins, the game is just the backdrop for what can be done inside and on the field for private groups. “Being a historic NFL franchise, we specialize in adding a unique touch,” says Jonte Valentine, manager of special events. That includes coordinating activities such as flag football, alumni player appearances, chalk talks and VIP tours. Groups can also use the HD video boards and LED ribbon boards for welcome messages and company logos. Some of the rentable spaces that clients like Mercedes Benz and MedStar Family look for include an Owner’s  Club for 175 standing or 60 seated, a players lounge for 350 standing or 160 seated or a whole club level for up to 8,000 people. // (301) 276.6711

PNC Park | Pittsburgh, PA,
Nationals Stadium | Washington, D.C. 

Best Camp or Retreat Center to Unplug and Refocus

WINNER: Lutheridge Conference and Retreat Center, Asheville, NC

There’s a home away from home for busy, geared up groups to get away from it all. At Lutheridge Conference and Retreat Center, tucked away on top of a hill, “it is a place away from a daily routine yet close enough to the local attractions and resources in downtown Asheville,” says Executive Director Keith Johnson. “The simple act of meeting in a new place can spark a new idea or be the motivation needed to have open and forward moving discussion, which can be groundbreaking for an organization.” Here, customized retreats can have as much or as little programming as desired with access to group  facilitation, A/V needs and meals either shared in the dining rooms or made in private cabin kitchens. Activities include the Group Interaction Course, a climbing tower, rock climbing, white water rafting, hiking and ropes courses. For meeting purposes, spaces range from the new 552-seat Faith Center to the two-story Efird Hall and the open pavilion Lakeside Lodge. // (828) 684.2361

Blachford Lake Lodge, Arkansas 4-H | Little Rock, AR 

Best Special Event Venue to Get the Party Started

WINNER: Perez Art Museum, Miami, FL

From huge installation works to modern photography and surrealist paintings, the Perez Art Museum Miami is one of Florida’s leading galleries for international art of the 20 th and 21 st centuries. In addition to the dynamic artwork on display is the building’s expressive design. “The space opens onto a sprawling outdoor plaza with greenery cascading from an open canopy, which allows for a venue that is neither inside nor outside but rather fully integrated with the environment,” says Morgan Bedore, vice president of sales and creative development. Inside, the lobby offers views of Biscayne Bay, Museum Park and Downtown Miami and can be rented for event use. The East Portico is the venue’s signature space that has been used by clients like W and GQ magazines to host receptions for 1,000-plus guests and dinners for 600. There is also the Terrace Platform, the Hoffman Boardroom and the outdoor Northern Trust Terrace available as well as other smaller performance, meeting and educational spaces for a truly memorable event. // (786) 345.5645

Melrose Market Studios | Seattle, WA,
Howl at the Moon | Denver, CO