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Best of Awards




By Selena Fragassi

 

These 23 winners of the Fourth Annual Unique Venues Best of Awards really make our industry go 'round. Get to know the best venue for locally sourced catering, best venue to film a movie or TV show, and so many more special places.

 Sometimes winning really is everything, especially when niche venues are recognized with industry awards. For the fourth year, we are proud to bring back the annual Unique Venues Best of Awards, paying homage to your picks for the special event venues, business centers, and campuses that are going above and beyond to provide unparalleled service and professionalism-and making our community grow even stronger. Congratulations to all the winners and runners up and thanks for continuing to make us proud.

Best Small Market Venue
Winner: The Connors Center - Boston College, Dover, MA



The Connors Center at Boston College presents groups with the best of both worlds. "Located 20 miles from downtown Boston, on 80 acres in Dover, Massachusetts, the Connors Center provides a picturesque backdrop for executive retreats, multi-day conferences, weddings, and social events, and is easily accessible from the city while a world away from its hustle and bustle," says General Manager Susan Burton who notes the venue often attracts corporate groups that are seeking standout venues in the Boston area for their clients. Part of the charm of The Connors Center is that it's an historic turn-of-the-20th Century mansion with many of the original details intact, such as intricate wood-carved mantles, large French doors, bay windows, built-in bookshelves, and fireplaces. In total, the venue offers 50,000 square feet of space across 12 rooms with various configurations as well as lush outdoor gathering areas. Overnight accommodations are also available for up to 90 guests. "As an historic estate, many of the rooms were not originally created for meeting spaces," says Burton, "but through renovation programs, we have created technologically modern meeting areas while maintaining the charm and ambiance."
UniqueVenues.com/BCConnorsCenter // (617) 552.9210
Runners Up: University of Illinois Conferences and Special Events (Champaign, IL, UniqueVenues.com/uillinoisconferences); Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum (Springfield, IL, UniqueVenues.com/LincolnLibrary)


Best Outdoor/Rooftop Event Space
Winner: Camp Chief Hector YMCA, Exshaw, AB



There are few places to get back to nature like Camp Chief Hector YMCA, nestled in the beautiful Bow Valley Provincial Park within the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The 1,000-acre site (just one hour from Calgary Airport) is a stunning and private location for meetings and events with "lots of great photographic opportunities, including both lake and mountain views and is open all seasons," says Outdoor Programs Manager John Boardman. The property accepts bookings February through June and September through December of each year and can facilitate seasonal outdoor activities such as canoeing, horseback riding, high ropes courses, archery, and hiking. The exclusive rustic experience is coupled with two site locations that offer large banquet halls for weddings, corporate retreats, and private events, accommodating 40 to 350 guests. Heated overnight accommodations are also available for up to 200 guests as well as full catering service, all of which can be booked together. "During May, June, and September we also offer tipis for rental," says Boardman. Each has 10 sleeping bunks with mattresses and a central fire pit for an extra special touch.
UniqueVenues.ca/CampChiefHector // (403) 673.3858
Runners Up: The College of William and Mary (Williamsburg, VA, UniqueVenues.com/WilliamandMary); The Connors Center - Boston College (Dover, MA, UniqueVenues.com/BCConnorsCenter)


Best Earth-Friendly Venue
Winner: Carleton University, Richcraft Hall, Ottawa, ON



Carleton University's Richcraft Hall demonstrates the sustainability commitment of all new buildings on campus, and the programs Carleton is delivering to advance sustainability and energy reduction. This commitment is embedded within the Sustainability Strategic Plan which focuses on energy reduction and other 'green' policies such as water consumption, electricity usage, and waste management. "The plan commits Carleton to ensuring that all new construction and major renovations achieve Green Globes Rating for overall environmental performance" says Philip Mansfield, manager, sustainability programs. Richcraft Hall has achieved 4 out of 5 Green Globes, recognized for its LED lighting systems, low-flow water saving fixtures, a high-efficiency HVAC system with energy recovery wheel, automated sensors to control lighting, heating, and cooling, and windows to facilitate natural ventilation and daylight. Hundreds of meetings and events are hosted in this beautiful green space where guests can also enjoy a living green wall with drought resistant plants. Campus-wide, Carleton has also achieved a Silver Star rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and was named a "Cool School" by the Sierra Club, which lists North America's greenest colleges and universities.
UniqueVenues.ca/CarletonUniv // (613) 520.5611
Runners Up: Seattle Aquarium (Seattle, WA, UniqueVenues.com/SeattleAquarium); Miami University Conference and Event Services (Oxford, OH, UniqueVenues.com/MUOhio)


Best Venue to Film A Movie or TV Show
Winner: College of Saint Elizabeth, Morristown, NJ



The show goes on at College of Saint Elizabeth. The campus has become an undeniable asset to area film crews that enjoy the accessibility to New York City ("New Jersey Transit is literally at our front gate," says Patricia L. Devlin, director of conference and event services) and the availability of comfortable lodging for actors and crew. Productions have scouted the beautiful 200-acre campus for its adaptability, marrying modern facilities with historic, cherished spaces. "With plenty of private, quiet spaces, a film crew can easily set up their equipment and film with little interruption," adds Devlin, "and ample parking allows space for the trailers used by actors and production crew." Devlin also notes that although the entire campus is conducive to filming, it also hosts a special outdoor facility (the Greek Theatre) that brings a new, creative twist to commercial production. "It's one of only a handful in the U.S. and seats up to 1,200 people."
UniqueVenues.com/CollegeStElizabeth // (973) 290.4384
Runners Up: Miami University Conference and Event Services (Oxford, OH, UniqueVenues.com/MUOhio); Shrine Auditorium & Expo Hall (Los Angeles, CA, UniqueVenues.com/ShrineAuditorium)


Best City Center Venue
Winner: Georgia Institute of Technology Conference Services, Atlanta, GA



Atlanta is considered one of the "most charming" and "most cultured" cities in America according to Travel + Leisure magazine, and in 2016, the city's vibe helped to attract 700-plus conventions, meetings, and events. Located in the heart of trendy Midtown Atlanta, five minutes from the downtown district, Georgia Institute of Technology takes advantage of all the cultural, recreational, entertainment, and tourist attractions nearby for its guests. "There are an endless number of activities to take advantage of in the city, such as the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coke, College Football Hall of Fame, Piedmont Park, and a number of restaurants," says John Nussear, director of conference services. The urban amenities also extend to nearby off-site meeting spaces, a full-service, on-campus police department, and an array of hotels for VIPs, according to Nussear. In total, Georgia Tech offers more than 50 meeting rooms, the largest for 9,000 guests, as well as sleeping accommodations for 6,000 people. In such a crowded urban market, the Conference Services department stands out with competitive pricing, a staff available 24/7 and a "home-like" feel on campus.
UniqueVenues.com/georgiatech // (404) 894.2469
Runners Up: Keep Memory Alive Event Center (Las Vegas, NV, UniqueVenues.com/KeepMemoryAliveEventCenter); American University (Washington, D.C., UniqueVenues.com/AmericanUniv)


Best Venue for Transportation Access
Winner: Georgia Institute of Technology Conference Services, Atlanta, GA



Whether by plane, train, or automobile, it's incredibly easy to get to and from Georgia Institute of Technology, which is located in the heart of Atlanta's Midtown district, just five minutes from downtown. "Everything is truly minutes away," says John Nussear, director of conference services, noting that many attractions and points of interest are within a 10- to 15-minute walk. As well, there are a number of transit systems that guests can take advantage of, including a Greyhound bus station in downtown Atlanta, Amtrak train service in Midtown, as well as the city-wide MARTA trains "that are great for traveling to campus from the airport and getting around different parts of the city," says Nussear. Passes can be purchased from the Student Center. Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is also just 15 minutes away and is considered one of the largest and most active airports in the world, as well as a prominent Delta hub, so flying in and out of the city is incredibly convenient. Uber, Lyft, and taxi services are also available all over the city and campus for transport in a moment's notice.
UniqueVenues.com/georgiatech // (404) 894.2469
Runners Up: National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum; Boston University (Boston, MA, UniqueVenues.com/BostonUniv)


Best Venue for Expos and Tradeshows
Winner: Keep Memory Alive Event Center, Las Vegas, NV



It's not every day you can attend an expo or tradeshow in a venue designed by famed architect Frank Gehry, but that's precisely the environment attendees have when walking through the exhibitor floor at the Keep Memory Alive Event Center in Las Vegas. The 9,200-square-foot floor is a blank canvas that can be transformed into an infinite variety of unique events beyond tradeshows too, including weddings, social celebrations, banquets and corporate meetings for up to 700 people. Events can also be extended into the Gehry-designed Reflection Garden that accommodates a reception for 1,500-plus guests. The center also offers an all-inclusive package "that avoids additional fees and hassles, allowing the client to take full advantage of all that the venue has to offer," says Vice President Carrie Giverson. Ample parking is also available within steps of the event center for easy access. Even better, event proceeds benefit the nonprofit organization Keep Memory Alive that provides funds for research, treatment, and clinical studies of neurological diseases. Some past tradeshow clients have included Samsung, Nike, and Volvo, that have used the space for up to 40, 10' x 10' booths the staff that assists with set up and breakdown.
UniqueVenues.com/KeepMemoryAliveEventCenter // (702) 263.9797
Runners Up: Georgian Conference and Event Services; MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, NJ, UniqueVenues.com/MetLifeStadium)


Best High-Tech Venue
Winner: Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, IL



The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago is a renowned institution that looks at notable advancements in science and discovery across history-while steering its own achievements in technology. "The first thing you'll notice upon arrival are the giant LCD monitors in Entry Hall used for ticketing," says Stan Hansen, senior marketing specialist for Sodexo, which runs event operations at the venue. Many other cutting-edge technological capabilities are also built right in to various structures. "The breathtaking 120-foot copper-domed ceiling in the Rotunda has built-in lighting trusses for both event lighting and video projections, and the four hanging 20' x 30' banners in the rotunda can be turned into projection screens," adds Hansen, noting A/V techs are available on-site. These breakthroughs are also seen in transformative exhibits, which event guests have access to, including a 40-foot tall indoor tornado and robotic marvels in "Robot Revolution." There are also flight simulators in the transportation gallery and dive trainers in the U-505 submarine exhibit. The museum recently completed a lighting upgrade in Entry Hall with an electronic control panel that can specify colors, which presents branding opportunities. "We always work within budgets to provide the best event experience possible," says Hansen.
UniqueVenues.com/MSIChicago // (773) 753.2583
Runners Up: Virginia Tech Executive Briefing Center (Arlington, VA, UniqueVenues.com/VTEBC); OFFSITE New York (New York, NY, UniqueVenues.com/offsite)


Best Venue for When the Meeting's Over
TIE
Winners: Nationals Park, Washington, D.C. &
RockRidge Canyon Conference and Retreat Center, Princeton, BC





When you want to go into extra innings with your meeting group, Nationals Park has all the bases covered. The official ballpark of the Washington Nationals Baseball Club is also available as a unique private rental option with 22 different event spaces in a variety of sizes and styles-with 14 located indoors and 8 outdoors. "Your guests can have a breakfast meeting in the Nationals Bullpen, a holiday party in the Nationals Clubhouse, or a private concert on the field," says Emily Dunham, Executive Director of Ballpark Enterprises. Meeting spaces are equipped with A/V, and the video scoreboard can be used for logos, videos, or a live feed. As well, the in-house caterer, Levy, can provide customized menus to make your day a success. When the business agenda is finished there is a plethora of activities to partake in, including ballpark tours, batting practice on the field, firework shows, mascot appearances, and more. Says Dunham, "It's a chance to experience a Major League Baseball stadium in an unconventional way."
UniqueVenues.com/nationalspark // (202) 640.7823

"At RockRidge Canyon, the fun runs from sunrise to well past sunset," says Shelley Austin, retreat coordinator for the conference center set in a breathtaking mountain valley that offers 19 meeting rooms for up to 450 people and overnight accommodations for 350-plus a number of activities to enjoy at the property when business wraps. "A popular option is a hike to the top of a steep ascent, while other guests prefer to go jump in the lake," she adds. Waterskiing and wake boarding activities are possible, as are kayaking and canoeing, and there's also an outdoor pool that draws in both sunbathers and lap swimmers. The afternoons are often "free time," says Austin when groups will choose to partake in a Challenge Course or zip-lining. In the winter months, after-hours activities included snowshoeing, tubing, and skating on the frozen lake. The newest addition to the property is the 320-seat The Rock Theater auditorium with state-of-the-art lighting and sound and a calendar full of music events, comedy, and dramatic theater. Outdoor firepits are also a gathering place for s'mores and storytelling.
UniqueVenues.ca/RockRidgeCanyon // (250) 870.9030
Runner Up: National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum, UniqueVenues.com/NationalInventorsHallofFame)


Best Venue for Formal Affairs
Winner: The Ohio Union at Ohio State University, Columbus, OH



Dressing up events is a seamless experience with The Ohio Union at Ohio State University. The campus' premier facility hosts a whopping 22,000 events per year including gala fundraisers and other formal black tie affairs. Previous clients have included the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Gala Promise Ball and Childhood League Center-Merry Go Round Fundraiser with live and silent auction. All are held in the Archie M. Griffin Grand Ballroom, with cocktail receptions and auctions in attached pre-function space. "Our ballroom can seat up to 1,000 guests, and has 33' ceilings with three large Swarovski crystal chandeliers, matching sconces on the walls, as well as hardwood floors and large floor-to-ceiling windows," says Karen Narwicz, director of sales. The room is complete with a podium, dance floor, cabaret tables and chairs, LCD projectors and screens, a built-in A/V booth, and plated dinner service presented on bone china for up to 1,000 guests from an in-house culinary team. Staging, backdrops, specialty lighting and the ability to hang truss are other important features that wow guests. "Our event coordinators can help plan your special event, and we offer complete set up and tear down," says Narwicz.
UniqueVenues.com/OhioUnionOSU // (614) 292.9835
Runners Up: The National Archives Museum (Washington, D.C., UniqueVenues.com/NationalArchives); Robert H Lee Alumni Centre UBC, Vancouver, BC, UniqueVenues.ca/LeeAlumniCenter)


Best Venue for Reunions
Winner: Silver Bay YMCA - Conference and Family Retreat Center on Lake George, Silver Bay, NY



This year's award marks an incredible fourth consecutive win for Silver Bay YMCA Conference and Family Retreat Center in this category-and it's easy to see why. First is the idyllic location, set on 700 acres on Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York, which encompasses more than 60 buildings (all on the National Registry for Historic Places). Though Silver Bay hosts more and more new families every year, there are so many that have regarded the campus as their second hometown. "We see families establishing bonds within their family group, but also bonding with other families they meet here at Silver Bay," says Sales Director Lindsey Rice. Here, groups can choose standard programs and activities or customize programs for their needs. 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. 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.
UniqueVenues.com/SilverBayYMCA // (518) 543.8833
Runners Up: Bobby McKey's Dueling Piano Bar (National Harbor, MD, UniqueVenues.com/BobbyMcKeysMD); Eagle Rock Retreat Center (Eagle Rock, MO, UniqueVenues.com/EagleRockRetreatCtr)


Best Venue for Spiritual/Wellness Gathering
Winner: Silver Bay YMCA - Conference and Family Retreat Center on Lake George, Silver Bay, NY



When Silver Bay YMCA was founded in 1902, it was built on the principles of building a healthy spirit, mind, and body. "Silver Bay carries on a similar tradition today by hosting dozens of spiritual and wellness groups, large and small," says Marketing and Communications Director Liz Hinck, noting that guests can find peaceful opportunities in every corner of the 700-acre campus in upstate New York. That includes quiet wooded areas for prayer and personal reflection and hikes with vista views of Lake George, where many also like to take a dip in the cleansing waters. Silver Bay also features a Labyrinth for those interested in walking meditation. During seasonal months, on-site non-denominational worship services are offered in addition to a number of Spiritual Life discussion groups. Worship takes place in the beautiful Helen Hughes Memorial Chapel made of stone or in the spacious 700-seat Auditorium. When it comes to wellness, the campus boasts a 100-year-old gymnasium with basketball court, utility gym, fitness center, dance studio, and coffee lounge. Wellness groups can also take advantage of yoga, reiki, and cancer-patient respite groups. "The appeal is the wide array of wholesome and invigorating experiences in which guests can partake," furthers Hinck.
UniqueVenues.com/SilverBayYMCA // (518) 543.8833
Runners Up: American University (Washington, D.C., UniqueVenues.com/AmericanUniv); Mountain Winery (Saratoga, CA, UniqueVenues.com/MountainWinery)


Best Venue for Team-Building
Winner: The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA



No single Challenge Course is the same at The College of William & Mary. "We're proud to be able to customize team-building events on a group-by-group basis. Our team of facilitators tailors tasks and challenge activities to promote the learning goals of the client," says Mariellynn D. Maurer, CCEP, director of conference services. Prior to coming to the Challenge Course, each group is asked about their goals, challenges, mission, values, and purpose, and all groups start with ground and low-ropes elements before moving on to high ropes. The course is nestled in a scenic wooded area on the Virginia campus, near Lake Matoaka, and the location offers a moderate climate much of the year to enjoy it. "We feature a zip-line that goes across Lake Matoaka and, for many groups, that particular element is the highlight," adds Maurer. Immediately adjacent to the obstacle course is the Briggs Amphitheatre, which complements the outdoor activities with additional options, such as catered meals or a celebration station after finishing the challenge.
UniqueVenues.com/WilliamandMary // (757) 221.4084
Runners Up: The Conference Center at Montclair State University (Montclair, NJ, UniqueVenues.com/MontclairStateConfCtr); YMCA Camp Elphinstone (Gibsons, BC, UniqueVenues.ca/CampElphinstone)


Best Meeting Package
Winner: The Conference Center at Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ



When you're based in the highly competitive market of New York City, it can be tough to stand out from the crowd. In an effort to attract more business, The Conference Center at Montclair State University decided to roll out more expansive meeting package options. "We've broadened the array of events we host to satisfy a more diverse client base, we had to expand our meeting packages to accommodate specific needs," rationalizes Director Ryan Klutsarits. "The common goal was to create an easy process where we, as a venue, could shoulder the load." That includes taking steps to add in more ancillary services beyond just food and beverage, such as integrated LED uplighting, and options to include floral arrangements and centerpieces through partnerships with local florists. "Also, since we are on a college campus, another asset we have is reserved parking and a valet shuttle service that literally places guests at our front door," adds Klutsarits. All packages also include technical support. "We realize that event planners have enough decisions to make, therefore we try to simplify their experience with one bundle [of options] while not losing the ability to be completely customizable."
UniqueVenues.com/MontclairStateConfCtr // (973) 655.3431
Runners Up: The National Conference Center (Leesburg, VA, UniqueVenues.com/nationalconferencecenter); The Falls Event Center in Roseville (Roseville, CA, UniqueVenues.com/FallsEventCenterRoseville)


Best Venue for LGBTQ-Friendly Events
Winner: Miami University Conference & Event Services, Oxford, OH



The resounding message at Miami University is, "everyone is welcome here," says Kathy Crowley, senior marketing and sales manager for the Conference & Event Services department. "Especially since our 2016/17 mission is diversity and inclusion in every aspect of the campus." Her team ensures that everyone feels comfortable when choosing meeting or event space within the array of available venues. "Our planners work with members of the LGBTQ community to ensure that all rooming situations are preferable, as there are many options for single person rooms and all-gender bathrooms in the [Marcum Hotel], as well as in event and dining venues," says Crowley. The campus is frequently chosen for inclusive commitment and marriage ceremonies, since both chapels on-site are non-denominational as well. Groups including SPECTRUM have also hosted LGBTQ-friendly regional events with Miami University. Says Crowley, "We make it easy for groups who are seeking inclusion and seamless planning for all their attendees."
UniqueVenues.com/MUOhio // (513) 529.6918
Runners Up: Hampshire College Event Services & Summer Programs (Hampshire, MA, UniqueVenues.com/HampshireCollege); The Warner Theatre (Washington, D.C., UniqueVenues.com/WarnerTheatre)


Best Event Package
Winner: The Oasis Centre, Edmonton, AB



If clients have flexible dates they can find incredible rates at the Oasis Centre in Alberta, Canada. Because the venue often sells out Fridays and Saturdays during their peak season, they created an attractive Thursday wedding package. "It's for those clients that would love to have the full Oasis experience at a little more than half the cost," says Anne McLennan, wedding director. Couples can also buy into spring wedding promo packages that provide incentives before primetime booking windows, including off-season discounts from partner vendors and a chance to further reduce costs by having a "mini room flip" rather than the full room changeover. But weddings aren't the only events that get to take advantage of special promotions. "We offer our corporate clients comprehensive and well-designed packages too, with the intention to help streamline and offer pricing incentives depending on the season, or type of event, whether it be a corporate seminar, concert, memorial, or fundraiser," says McLennan. "Because we are not a hotel, or associated with a chain, we are able to maintain a competitive edge by having flexibility in all aspects of event planning, including our in-house services, as well as pricing. We love working with our clients for a win-win solution whenever possible."
UniqueVenues.ca/OasisEdmontonConfCtr // (780) 451.9227
Runners Up: The Falls Event Center in Elk Grove (Elk Grove, CA, UniqueVenues.com/TheFallsEventCenterElkGrove); The Falls Event Center in Roseville (Roseville, CA, UniqueVenues.com/FallsEventCenterRoseville)

Best Conference Center
Winner: UCLA Lake Arrowhead Conference Center, Lake Arrowhead, CA



In recent years, UCLA Lake Arrowhead has hosted a number of high-profile conferences for Cornell University, Columbia University, California state government agencies, and notable nonprofit groups. "As long as the organization meets UCLA's mission of education, research, or service we welcome the conference here in Lake Arrowhead," says Director Steve Caloca, noting that his team makes planning simple. "We are there every step of the way from planning to on-site to post-conference," he says. The center also offers a Complete Meeting Package (CMP) that, for one price per person, per night, provides deluxe sleeping accommodations and IACC-certified meeting space with all audio-visual needs, plus breakfast, lunch, dinner, and coffee breaks in the meeting rooms. "On top of our CMP value, there is also no charge for parking, no charge for Wi-Fi throughout the property, and no charge for the on-site recreation facilities," adds Caloca. That includes a seasonal outdoor swimming pool, indoor poolside spa with fireplace, and tennis, basketball, and volleyball courts. For an additional cost, the conference center also offers full team-building activities such as rock walls and rope courses through the Arrowhead Adventures program. "The other big attraction is the learning environment on our 50-acre campus," adds Caloca. "Groups can choose outdoor breakout rooms, such as our zen deck, boat docks, or the fire-pit in front of our main lodge."
Runners Up: McNamara Alumni Center, University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, MN, UniqueVenues.com/mcnamara); Corporate College (Cleveland, OH, UniqueVenues.com/CorporateCollege)


Best Place to Gather for the Day
Winner: Conferences & Accommodation at UBC, Vancouver, BC



Meeting days are made better at the University of British Columbia. From the elegant Chan Centre for the Performing Arts to the fascinating Museum of Anthropology, there are plenty of unique spaces on this scenic campus that enhance any meeting, conference, or event. "We have meeting and conference spaces of all types and sizes to accommodate any group," says Tony Hsu, business development manager. In total, UBC has 85,000 square feet of combined meeting and exhibit space, welcoming groups of up to 4,000 people. "Some of Vancouver's top tourist attractions and beautiful gardens are also located right on campus," adds Hsu. The Conferences & Accommodation staff can also help with venue selection, budget management, web design, registration and payment processing, and catering and overnight accommodations. The department also offers customized conference packages catered to budget and conference size.
UniqueVenues.ca/UBC // (604) 822.1060
Runners Up: AceBounce (Chicago, IL, UniqueVenues.com/AceBounce); OFFSITE New York (New York, NY, UniqueVenues.com/offsite)


Best Venue for Youth/Sports Groups
Winner: University of Maryland, College Park, MD



For the second consecutive year, the University of Maryland, College Park takes home the award in this category. The campus offers unparalleled options for youth groups, including a suburban location near the nation's capital with two-layer security and 8,000 beds plus two dining halls where younger attendees can convene together. "Each summer, sports camps run by Big Ten Conference coaches combine with college immersion, special studies, and STEAM programs to create a thriving campus," says Joseph E. Criscuoli, marketing and sales coordinator of Conferences & Visitor Services. One of the most notable is the Maryland Field Hockey Camp held at UMCP's state-of-the-art field hockey turf facility since 1995 with instruction from current and former National & Olympic team members. "Our ropes challenge course, rock climbing wall, ice cream socials from the Maryland Dairy, and TerpZone facility are 'must-do' add-ons for any youth program," adds Criscuoli. UMCP can also provide in-house motor coach charters that make ground transportation to nearby Annapolis, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. a breeze for additional educational components.
UniqueVenues.com/umcollegepark // (301) 314.7884
Runners Up: Carleton University, Conference Services (Ottawa, ON, UniqueVenues.ca/CarletonUniv); RockRidge Canyon Conference and Retreat Centre (Princeton, BC, UniqueVenues.ca/RockRidgeCanyon)


Best Venue for Unique or Locally Sourced Catering
Winner: University of Maryland, College Park, MD



At the University of Maryland, College Park, traditional cafeteria fare just won't do. Instead the in-house culinary team creates fresh, unique dishes with restaurant caliber. "New guests are frequently surprised at the cuisine and service offered on our campus because they don't expect university food service to operate at this level," says Joseph E. Criscuoli, marketing and sales coordinator of Conferences & Visitor Services. Most of the ingredients come from Terp Farm, an organic farm 15 miles off campus that works in conjunction with the College of Agriculture and Dining Services. Students log field trips, workdays, and internships, and Terp Farm provides produce to University of Maryland Catering, restaurants, and occasionally to dining halls. "In addition, catering chefs maintain two herb gardens at the front of the Adele H. Stamp Student Union and harvest many of the herbs they use right at the moment they are needed," adds Criscuoli who says that the updated catering options were in response to more clients specifying sustainability as an important aspect of their event. "They are looking for locally sourced foods, recyclable or compostable supplies, and menus that feature a local theme, and we are proud to serve the university community in this way."
UniqueVenues.com/umcollegepark // (301) 314.7884
Runners Up: UTEC Events & Catering (Lowell, MA, UniqueVenues.com/UTEC); Wild Wolf Brewing Company (Nellysford, VA, UniqueVenues.com/WildWolfBrewing)


Best Renovation
Winner: Virginia Commonwealth University - Rhoads Hall, Richmond, VA



Virginia Commonwealth's Rhoads Hall was originally built in 1968 to house 697 students in 340 traditional-style rooms-but nearly 50 years later it was in need of some modernized upgrades. Over the course of two summers, in 2016 and 2017, floors 2 through 18 were overhauled. The renovations included completely gutting the existing bathrooms and corridors. Bathrooms received new showers and toilet areas, updated vanity sinks, enhanced tiled floors and walls, and the addition of ADA/Gender Neutral facilities. New carpet, ceilings, and a fresh coat of paint were unveiled in all the corridors as well after the project was completed in August. "The major challenges in completing this project on schedule were coordinating and completing the required demolition (including asbestos abatement), while at the same time moving an enormous amount of materials for the renovation via three standard elevators," says Nichole M. Smithson with the Central Housing department. But in the end, she says, "We provided more privacy for students and guests and enhanced the living experience for those who live and visit with us."
UniqueVenues.com/VCU // (804) 828.7465
Runners Up: University of South Florida-St. Petersburg (St. Petersburg, FL, UniqueVenues.com/USFStPetersburg); Salve Regina University (Newport, RI, UniqueVenues.com/SalveRegina)

Best Venue for Small Gatherings
Winner: Virginia Tech Executive Briefing Center, Arlington, VA



Small meetings have a home at Virginia Tech Executive Briefing Center, where the ideal group size is 50 people or less. "We offer two rooms that can accommodate a smaller guest count for all-day meetings while allowing everyone to be seated comfortably with ample table space," says Coordinator Anna Smith. In addition to state-of-the-art meeting spaces (including a 20-foot ultra-high-resolution projection screen with 3D capability), other ancillary options include the Falls Church Foyer for receptions up to 100 people and the Hospitality Zone for more intimate gatherings of under 40. "With four built-in monitors, you can personalize the space with your company's logo or scrolling PowerPoint, which gives the Hospitality Zone an even more cozy and customized feel," adds Smith. She says the Executive Briefing Center is also frequently used for small, one-day office retreats to get away from everyday distractions or even one-on-one client meetings for those times when making a great impression can play a key role in a meeting's success.
UniqueVenues.com/VTEBC // (571) 858.3030
Runners Up: (TIE) Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum (Springfield, IL, UniqueVenues.com/LincolnLibrary), The Marcum Hotel & Conference Center (Oxford, OH, UniqueVenues.com/TheMarcum)
 
Talk to a Venue Specialist: 1-877-244-6110