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Cover Story: Best of Awards

By Selena Fragassi


It’s time for award season, and what better way to kick it off than naming our Second Annual Best Of Awards to these very special properties. From the best venue to film a movie to the best high-tech business center, we tallied your votes for the final winners in 20 categories—and what a distinguished group it is. Congratulations to all the winners and the runners up!

Best Venue to Film a Movie
Winner: Boston University, Boston, MA

Boston University has its own sequel as the second-time winner in this category, also receiving the best “venue to film a movie” honor in 2014. And it’s not hard to see why with rolling credits of big budget productions that have used the campus for their back lot such as “The Social Network,” “Friday Night Lights,” “21,” “60 Minutes,” and most recently, “Ghostbusters 3.” So who you gonna call when you need a blockbuster production? Dealing with demanding film and television crews has allowed the events department to perfect their operations for all clients; the certified One-Stop Shop is also versed in working with a number of service providers to make sure needs are met. // (617) 353.3520
Runners Up: Hatley Castle at Royal Roads University (Victoria, BC,, Georgia International Horse Park (Conyers, GA,

Best Venue to Host a Meeting or Event on a Per Diem
Winner: University of Georgia Hotel and Conference Center, Athens, GA

Back-to-school specials can be found all year long at venues like the University of Georgia Hotel and Conference Center, which is able to further provide affordable pricing since it is state-run. “We traditionally work with a Day Meeting Package versus charging meeting room rental and audio-visual fees,” says Director of Sales Elizabeth J. Hovell. “This provides planners the assurance of appropriate space and servicing at a set per person daily fee.” The DMPs offer a full A/V package in each room (regardless of size) including projector, screen, microphone, beverage service and refreshment breaks—or groups can also bring in their own A/V for a nominal fee. More than 38,000 square feet of meeting space can accommodate up to 600 while there are 200 hotel rooms and suites, and qualifying groups can receive a block of rooms at rates equal to the federal government per diem. All visitors can also tap into the complimentary shuttle service to attractions like the Georgia Museum of Art and Special Collections Library that offer free entertainment. // (706) 542.1044
Runners Up: The Conference Center at Montclair State University (Montclair, NJ,, St. Lawrence College Conference Services (Kingston, ON,

Best Venue for a Formal Affair
Winner: Hatley Castle at Royal Roads University, Victoria, BC

Sometimes fairytales do come true, like when you host your guests at the beautiful Hatley Castle on the 565-acre estate of Royal Roads University. With its storied history (once owned by the Dunsmuir family) and set on an idyllic location overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Castle has become a preferred venue for formal weddings and special events, and even film and television productions such as “X-Men II and III” and “The Witches of East End.” The first floor offers more than 2,000 square feet for up to 200 guests and includes a Tudor Revival-style Grand Hall and Greek Revival-style Ballroom and lounge. Inside are vaulted ceilings, oak beams, stained glass windows, seven wood-burning fireplaces, four crystal chandeliers, gold‐beribboned sconces and two sets of double French doors that open to “a spectacular view of the formal gardens, Esquimalt Lagoon, the Straits of San Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains,” says Manager, Campus Services Lorraine Burtoi. Roads // (250) 391.2600
Runners Up: McNamara Alumni Center (Minneapolis, MN,, Austin Convention & Visitor’s Bureau - Hormel Historic Home (Austin, TX,

Best Venue for Exhibitions and Tradeshows
Winner: Georgian Conference and Event Services, Barrie, ON

Georgian Conference and Event Services clearly knows the tricks of the tradeshow, named the winner of this category for the second consecutive year. Part of Georgian College, the events department seamlessly transforms the campus’ student athletic centre into a 20,000-square-foot, column-free event space with ample room for up to 110, 10’ x 10’ booths that can fit banners, displays and furniture. As such it has developed a
considerable reputation and hosts around 15 large-scale shows annually including galas, convocations, wellness fairs, career expos and sports exhibitions; past clients have included the Skor Food Tradeshow and Flanagan Tradeshow. “One of the attractive reasons that groups use our venue is that all profits goes back to the students of Georgian College for events, activities and special projects,” says Sara Tuck, CMP, manager of conference and event services. The other reason is the location—just 90 minutes from downtown Toronto it’s easily accessible. // (705) 728.1968
Runners Up: Boston University Agganis Arena (Boston, MA,, Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago, IL,

Best Outdoor Event Space
Winner: Georgia International Horse Park, Conyers, GA

The great outdoors is one way to describe Georgia International Horse Park. Originally purpose built for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, the venue has since hosted concerts and festivals, state and county fairs, obstacle course races, car, bike and RV shows, mountain bike and extreme sporting races, weddings, reunions and commercial productions—just to name a few. “We have great options for events seeking an outdoor venue to accommodate large crowds with seating, concessions, vendors and entertainment,” says Director Jennifer Edwards. The whole park is a whopping 1,400 acres with various venues including the Grand Prix Plaza and Stadium (with 8,000 seats and 143,000 square feet of space), Charles Walker Covered Arena for up to 2,500 people and Picnic Pavilion. There’s also the Cherokee Run Golf Club, Big Haynes Creek Nature Center, 25 miles of horse and bike trails and on-site hotel. And, says Edwards, “The Conyers community also boasts various shops, restaurants, attractions and ample hotels to accommodate events at the Horse Park.” // (770) 860.4194
Runners Up: Colorado State University (Fort Collins, CO,, Chicago Botanic Garden (Glencoe, IL,

Best Farm-to-Table Group Catering Offerings
Winner: The Red Barn at Hampshire College, Amherst, MA

The Red Barn at Hampshire College has some fresh ideas when it comes to catering. Since 2013 the charmingly rustic venue has “farmed out” their culinary creations, in the best way possible. “We are committed to the farm-to-table philosophy by sourcing from the local farmers of the Pioneer Valley, with many vegetables coming from our own Farm Center,” says Mike McKenna, director of event services and summer programs at the campus. And it’s the guests who are eating it up with menus that offer delectables like wild mushroom empanadas with chimichurri dipping sauce, flank steak roulade stuffed with roasted red pepper, caramelized onion and gorgonzola and a Pioneer Valley cheese display with locally sourced cheeses garnished with fresh and dried fruits and breads. The 2,600-square-foot venue also has a lot of flavor with a post-and-beam structure filled with original wide-panel flooring and modern amenities that include full-service A/V, heating and cooling systems and a covered deck with views of the Pioneer Valley Mountains. // (413) 559.5699
Runners Up: Loyola University Retreat and Ecology Campus (Woodstock, IL,, University of Nebraska (Lincoln, NE,

Best Place to Host an LGBTQ-friendly Event
Winner: University of Delaware Conference and Event Services, Newark, DE

The Virden Center at the University of Delaware takes a lot of pride in hosting events for the vibrant and active LGBTQ community in the beach town of Lewes, says Polly Weir, director of conference services. “We have been hosting civil unions for several years,” before same sex marriages became legal in the state, she says. “Our setting is ideal for weddings and events of all types because of its secluded, quiet and a natural environment, surrounded by wetlands.” The Center has been working to better serve the market by advertising in local and regional LGBTQ publications like Camp Rehoboth, Letters and the Washington Blade and anticipates special packages to be rolled out soon. Each event is tailored to the couple’s or group’s needs; in addition to weddings, the 4,300-square-foot Virden Center has hosted birthday, anniversary and retirement parties as well as retreats for the Metropolitan Community Church and the Universalist Church, both of which have numerous LGBTQ members. // (302) 831.3714
Runners Up: Mount Holyoke College and Willits-Hallowell Conference Center (South Hadley, MA,, SPiN New York (New York, NY,

Best Rural Venue
Winner: Arden Shisler Conference Center, Wooster, OH

Venues off the beaten path can often lead you on a trail to something truly special, such as the Arden Shisler Conference Center, which sits at the “gateway to Amish Country” in Wooster, Ohio. “We are in the rolling hills of North East and North Central Ohio, surrounded by farmland,” says Conference Manager Hannah Roscoe of the lush setting. The conference center is a part of Ohio State University, home to the Ohio Agricultural Research & Development Center (the largest of its kind in the country) that has attracted prominent groups such Land O’ Lakes, Monsanto’s Dairy Division and the Tri-County Beekeepers Association. Available on-site there is 25,000 square feet of space for up to 500 people, including a courtyard that has hosted wedding ceremonies, tailgate parties and other outdoor events. In addition to an 87-acre arboretum on-site, another draw is speakers. “Because of the research done on this campus, there are brilliant keynote speakers available on a variety of agricultural topics,” says Roscoe. // (330) 263.5501
Runners Up: The Red Barn at Hampshire College (Amherst, MA,, Lake Williamson Retreat Center (Carlinville, IL,

Best High-Tech Venue
Winner: McNamara Alumni Center, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN

Planners looking for an upgrade from conventional technology at conventional venues often plug in to venues like University of Minnesota’s McNamara Alumni Center. “Of the client surveys returned to us in 2015, 85% rated McNamara’s A/V technology a 5 out of 5,” says Director of Marketing and Sales Amy T. Leyden. Each of the 10 rooms has built-in, custom-designed services included in the rental, including podiums with microphones, screens and projectors and handheld and lapel wireless microphones. There’s also free wireless Internet on the first floor and DirectTV receivers in all rooms so guests can always stay linked in while on-site. In addition, McNamara Alumni Center works with a variety of vendors for high-quality web conferencing and live streaming video presentations, including the option for high-definition recording and video overflow to multiple areas within the venue. (A team with 75 years of combined experience is also at the ready to help set up.) “In 2016 we plan to upgrade room signage to digital, which will provide instant information and changes through our EMS room-booking software,” says Leyden of even more upgrades coming soon. // (612) 625.8876
Runners Up: University of Georgia Hotel and Conference Center (Athens, GA,, Kean University (Union, NJ,

Best Venue To Enjoy When The Meeting Is Over
Winner: Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, BC

Where’s the after party? At the Vancouver Art Gallery you’re already there. After meetings wrap up at the special event venue, guests can kick back and enjoy themselves by exploring all that the gallery has to offer. That includes four floors of historic and contemporary art exhibitions that rotate 15-20 exhibitions every year. “Private tours and workshops can be added to receptions and events at the gallery,” says Rosemary Pulice, venue rental coordinator, noting that guests usually stay an extra one to three hours on premises. The Gallery Café is another point of interest where attendees can grab a bite to eat and enjoy “one of the city’s best patio experiences” with an Italian-inspired terrace that overlooks the scenic Robson Square. One of the most entertaining activities might actually be shopping for art you can take home with you, says Pulice. “Our Art Rentals and Sales Showroom is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, for the bonding experience of selecting artwork for the office as a group.” // (604) 662.4714
Runners Up: Silver Bay YMCA - Conference and Family Retreat Center (Silver Bay, NY,, University of Maryland, College Park (College Park, MD,

Best Venue to Meet with Fewer Than 100 People
Winner: St. Lawrence College Conference Services, Kingston, ON

When it comes to small meetings and events, small details are everything. St. Lawrence College understands that by providing conference staff on call. “We do our best to personally schedule and book your room to the most accessible area,” says Conference Service Sales & Marketing Manager Amelia Campbell. Some options include the 60-person Empire Board Room that can be arranged into banquet, boardroom or classroom style or a U-shape or hollow square space, depending on the group’s needs. There’s also the quaint Fireside Room for less than 60 people that lets intimate groups gather around a central hearth. Summer accommodations are also available and, “We make sure to block rooms in certain wings to keep all conference delegates together,” she says. One particular client, the Edgar Casey Conference, has also used the size of their groups to their benefit hosting yoga in the meeting rooms. Whatever a planner chooses to do on-site, Campbell says, “Our meeting rooms, dining rooms, technology and staff can provide small groups a terrific experience at a reasonable cost.” // (613) 544.5400
Runners Up: Iona College (New Rochelle, NY,,
The Amber Room Colonnade (Danbury, CT,

Best Training and Development Facility
Winner: The Duncan Family Sky Room at Saint Peter’s University, Jersey City, NJ

When St. Peter’s University built the Mac Mahon Student Center, it was “with the intention of bringing the community together,” says Lauren LaGreca, Manager of Conferencing and Event Services. While that idea certainly applies to the students and faculty who regularly use the venue, it also extends to the external clients and businesses such as Jersey City Public Schools and Headstart Programs that often book the sixth floor marquee—the LEED Silver certified Duncan Family Sky Room. Here groups find a collaborative learning environment with 8,000 square feet of space outfitted with state-of-the-art A/V including professional surround sound and video conferencing that allows for enhanced educational opportunities. With air walls, the room itself can be divided into three spaces and configured in a myriad of ways, including a popular trend of soft seating to encourage collaboration and creativity. Says LaGreca, “The ability for customization in order to captivate a team is an immeasurable benefit [for planners]. Here, the space is their canvas.” // (201) 761.7414
Runners Up: MacEwean University (Edmonton, AB,, Georgian Conference and Event Services (Barrie, ON,

Best Venue for a Family Reunion or Gathering
Winner: Silver Bay YMCA – Conference and Family Retreat Center, Silver Bay, NY

Reunited and it feels so good is the sentiment many groups have had at Silver Bay YMCA in upstate New York, honored in this category for a second consecutive year. “Silver Bay YMCA continues to [look for ways to] strengthen families by offering inter-generational programs and affordable accommodations. We pride ourselves in offering a range that suit not only the needs of the reunion, but also offer a variety of pricing options,” says Sales and Marketing Director Liz Hinck. That means creating day camp programs with craft shops and swim lessons for children and providing activities for all ages to come together such as scavenger hunts, beach parties, square dancing and trivia nights—all set on a beautiful 700-acre lakefront campus in the Adirondacks. Encompassing more than 60 buildings, it’s also on the National Register of Historic Places for its architecture from the Arts and Crafts movement. Family dinners are also a special time with varied options available including formal dinners and barbecues or even requesting the chef to replicate a favorite family recipe. Says Hinck, “[Anyone] can put a personal stamp on their reunion.” // (518) 543.8833
Runners Up: Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 (Halifax, NS,, Bella Vista Estate (Steamboat Springs, CO,

Best Venue to Host a Youth Meeting or Sports Camp
Winner: University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Beyond the bright lights and buzzing nightlife of Las Vegas is a city that also appeals to families and children. At the heart of that is the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, which routinely attracts youth groups such as the Latino Youth Leadership Conference, Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership Seminar, USA Volleyball, American Regions Mathematics League and Upward Bound. A prominent feature is the 165,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art recreation center, built in 2008, that features two pools, four basketball courts, an indoor track and fully-equipped meeting rooms. All are in close proximity to residence halls that can welcome summer groups of up to 1,500 guests. Other meeting options include smart meeting rooms, academic classrooms and ballrooms, all of which are facilitated through a certified One-Stop Shop. “Our services include customized room configurations, parking and security coordination and full-service catering,” notes Assistant Director, Sales and Business Operations Heather Rappaport. // (702) 895.2643
Runners Up: The Student Life Center at East-West University Multipurpose Room (Chicago, IL,, University of New Brunswick Conference Services (Fredericton, NB,

Best Place to Gather for the Day
Winner: Navy Pier, Chicago, IL

Nine million visitors every year can’t be wrong. The huge draws of public visitors and event attendees who flock to Navy Pier Chicago every year find it to be a suitable day meeting center for its impeccable location on Lake Michigan and attractions such as the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, the iconic Ferris Wheel and a whole fleet of charter boats that offer lunch and dinner cruises along Lake Michigan. Organizers of conferences, tradeshows, banquets and business meetings will also marvel at the 300,000 square feet of flexible use space available for rent including two exhibit halls, 36 meeting rooms, an historic Grand Ballroom, Lakeview Terrace and tented Rooftop Terrace. Further amenities include A/V services, enclosed parking and covered drop-off areas as well as a breadth of on-site dining including Chicago staples like Giordano’s, Harry Caray’s Tavern and Big Bowl. // (312) 595.5300
Runners Up: Metro Meeting Centers - Boston (Boston, MA,, The Franklin Institute (Philadelphia, PA,

Best City Center Venue
Winner: Waterview, Vancouver, BC

It only opened in May 2015, but already Waterview is taking the city of Vancouver by storm as a go-to source for corporate parties, fundraisers, wedding ceremonies and association annual meetings. “Waterview features an open space flooded with natural light and expansive cityscape views that give a uniquely urban Vancouver experience,” says Special Projects Coordinator Carla Felicella. “Guests are immersed in a dynamic visual experience seeing the energetic flow of False Creek, enjoying views of lively Granville Island and watching sunsets over the iconic Burrard Street Bridge.” The other unique aspect to Waterview’s location is access from various points in the city, including arriving by boat or ferries at the venue’s private dock. The building, designed by world-renowned architect Bing Thom, has a further nautical vibe with picture windows. Inside is 3,250 square feet of flexible space and amenities including exclusive catering from Culinary Capers as well as complimentary Wi-Fi and eco-friendly composting services. // (604) 875.0153
Runners Up: Navy Pier (Chicago, IL,, Simon Fraser University Morris Wosk Centre for Dialogue (Vancouver, BC,

Best Accessible Venue (by plane, bus, train)
Winner: University of Maryland, College Park

Planes, trains and automobiles—all will get you to the University of Maryland with ease. Located just nine miles from Washington, D.C., “We are within a six-hour drive of three-quarters of the population of the United States,” says Marketing & Sales Coordinator Joseph E. Criscuoli. Within 35 minutes guests can also access Ronald Reagan National Airport, Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Dulles International Airport, and there’s a nearby Washington METRO stop for further transit options. Once on-site the 1,600-acre campus, groups can tap into nearly 200,000 square feet of meeting spaces in 100 meeting rooms, five ballrooms and a variety of multi-function spaces (capacities range from 15 to a grand total of 17,000 people). With all the influx of visitors the centrally located college has had (upwards of 50,000 people daily), they will soon be expanding with two on-campus hotels in 2017. // (301) 314.7884
Runners Up: 3 West Club (New York, NY,,
Villanova University Conferences, (Villanova, PA,

Best Place for a Spiritual or Wellness Gathering
Winner: Lake Williamson Christian Center, Carlinville, IL

There are higher powers at work at Lake Williamson Christian Center, much to the delight of denominational planners. “We fully believe in the power of off-site ministry. Our mission is to offer hospitality and facilities that exceed expectations where our guests can be restored, renewed and reconnected to God,” says Marketing Manager Ashley Haschemeyer of the 55-year-old property that last year welcomed 26,000-plus guests. With 400 acres, the sprawling grounds have a little something for everyone, from meeting rooms accommodating 15 to 1,300 people when assemblies are needed to the Eagle Crest Adventures programming that offers team-building, character development, and leadership training opportunities. Lake Williamson also has 183 guest rooms and an RV Park with 200 full hook-up sites. Retreat packages have become a preferred option for planners with a choice of lodging style, complimentary meeting spaces, buffet dining, and basic recreation—all bundled in one affordable price per person. Says Haschemeyer, “We will handle the setup and clean up so that you can stay focused on providing life-changing ministry to your attendees.” // (800) 500.5922
Runners Up: Silver Bay YMCA - Conference and Family Retreat Center (Silver Bay, NY,, Eagle Rock Retreat Center (Eagle Rock, MO,

Best Green Venue
Winner: Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, IL

At the Chicago Botanic Garden, you might expect this special event venue to have a green thumb, but it’s their green footprint that really sets the property apart. The site’s Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center has been Gold LEED certified for its rainwater systems, roof garden, recycled building materials and the bike racks and showers that encourage employees to cycle to work. Some of the most compelling eco-friendly initiatives though come from the Sodexo catering department and the nationally recognized Windy City Harvest, an urban agriculture education and jobs-training program. It oversees the Fruit and Vegetable Island that uses produce for daily specials and event menus, even ensuring brides and grooms choose their menus with peak growing season in mind. The Garden, which hosts 16 lush indoor and outdoor spaces, also recycles and composts event waste, incorporates biodegradable disposables made from fallen leaves and sustainable bamboo and recycles all wine corks from the bar service. // (847) 835.8370
Runners Up: Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA,, Vanderbilt University, (Nashville, TN,

Best Suburban Venue
Winner: Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO

Named one of the top ten places to live and work in national polls the past five years, Fort Collins is becoming quite the destination suburb—and planners in the know are turning to the town’s Colorado State University to host memorable meetings and events. Located halfway between metro Denver and Rocky Mountain National Park, “Our visitors can enjoy our suburban atmosphere without hassle or breaking the bank,” says Dezarai Brubaker, director of conference and event services. The self-contained, one-square-mile campus offers more than 50,000 square feet of new and renovated meeting space, 23,000 square feet of innovative classroom space and almost 6,000 beds, all booked by the certified One-Stop Shop. On-site guests can enjoy the Lory Student Center and eats at RamSkellar (a student-run pub with its own microbrewery). Or, just minutes away, is the city’s first bus rapid transit system, MAX. It can transport guests to midtown and a downtown district so charming that Disneyland’s Main Street was modeled after it. // (970) 491.1378
Runners Up: University of Central Oklahoma (Edmond, OK,, The University of Texas at Dallas (Richardson, TX,