Jim Mahon’s pitch for your next convention starts with a geography lesson.
“We are within reach of more than 50 percent of the U.S. population,” says Mahon, director of marketing and communications for the Akron/Summit Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We have great interstate turnpike access, and [the Akron Canton Airport] continues to develop programs with low-cost [airline] carriers. ... We can always be very competitive from a cost standpoint and still deliver value and service.”
And while he’s right and these qualities are important to drawing corporate meetings and events to Northeast Ohio, it’s also important to add some fun to your next company retreat, management session or user conference.
“If you think outside the box and look outside the traditional convention centers, we can offer some different types of activities and experiences that would be unique to the attendees and may give you an edge as far as attracting them,” says Jacklyn Krysa, marketing coordinator for the Ashtabula County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
So contact local chambers of commerce and convention and visitors bureaus. They can provide a comprehensive list of locations, including suggestions of those with nominal fees, and recommend trusted caterers, facilities and accommodations to meet your guests’ needs.
Greater Cleveland offers a variety of destinations that can please just about any personality — wine enthusiasts, nature admirers and football fanatics among them. Here are some ideas when it comes to finding a space for your next corporate meeting or event, whether it’s a casual team-building exercise or an elegant awards gala.
For Art Aficionados
Get out of the stark white walls of a traditional office space and conduct business in the region’s fine-art institutions. Northeast Ohio’s art museums offer breathtaking exhibits and art collections that can spark creativity and offer a blank canvas for innovation.
“If you’re looking for an interesting and stimulating location to host a meeting or special event, the [Akron Art] Museum offers a striking contrast to standard meeting rooms,” says Mahon, who raves about the way the original brick building has been melded with the new, massive steel and glass structure.
“You really have to visit the Akron Art Museum to appreciate the marvelous architectural details,” he adds.
The Akron Art Museum opened its $35 million expansion in 2007. The new design integrated an additional 63,300 square feet to present traveling exhibitions and art collections from its permanent holdings.
The museum offers three great spots for corporate meetings: a stadium-seating auditorium that holds up to 159 and two conference rooms (one of which is available in varied configurations) with maximum capacities of about 30 and 48.
The Canton Museum of Art and the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown rent meeting rooms and larger auditoriums for company meetings as well, which usually include downtime to allow attendees to view the exhibits.
Plus, throughout its $350 million expansion and renovation, which already saw the reopening of Gartner Auditorium in March, the Cleveland Museum of Art will continue to unveil a plethora of newly renovated event and meeting spaces before the museum’s grand reopening in 2013.
For History Buffs
Looking for the perfect spot to relax and unwind at your next corporate event? Check out the historic Sebring Mansion Inn and Spa, located about 30 miles southeast of Youngstown in Sebring, Ohio. Near completion on its renovation and expansion, the facility offers a one-stop destination for corporate meetings and events, complete with meeting rooms of varying sizes, lodging and a full-service spa (with therapy pools, saunas and steam rooms).
“It’s in a small town with not a lot of heavy traffic,” says Lynne Biery, owner and keeper of the Sebring Mansion. “What we’re finding is organizations are looking for a place that is all self-contained.” Guests can conduct business, unwind with a massage in their rooms, rejuvenate in the two therapy pools and let loose at an elegant evening affair, all in one location.
The historic portion is completed and has been operating since August, hosting events such as Mount Union College’s corporate retreats. The addition, slated to open this fall with an additional 20,000 square feet, will mimic the historic side.
Once completed, the Sebring Inn and Spa will house 14 guest rooms, 11 private balconies, 7,500 square feet of attached porches and a full-service spa. Meeting accommodations will include a ballroom with a capacity of up to 90 with varied configurations and five meeting spaces, complete with private porches overlooking the formal gardens, which can accommodate 40.
For the Adventurous
If you’re planning for an adventurous group, consider holding your next event on the Lake Erie islands, which offer a variety of seasonal activities and events, places to explore, and rich cultural and natural histories to discover between meetings.
Kelleys Island, the walleye fishing capital of the world, is quaint but full of attractions. Hike around the quarry, visit the island’s shops and restaurants, and visit Inscription Rock, where it is believed the Iroquois carved the rock’s markings.
“Attendees will be immersed in the island culture, feel the vibes, energy and attitude once they step onto the island,” says Amanda Smith, group sales coordinator for the Lake Erie Shores & Islands Welcome Center in Sandusky. “It will help open attendees’ minds and spark creativity.”
The Venture Resort, which opened in 2008, is the only hotel and conference center on the island. It offers 1,600 square feet of meeting space to accommodate up to 108 guests. The conference room provides four large-screen high-definition TVs, projectors and screens, microphone systems, and other necessary media. The room could also be divided into two spaces for a more intimate setting.
Companies could also look to Put-in-Bay for meeting space and adventure. This island has two large conference centers — Put-in-Bay Resort and Niagara Event Center — and is full of activities. During downtime, attendees can kayak, parasail, or visit attractions such as the Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, island wineries, and Perry’s Cove natural limestone cave.
But whichever island you choose, attendees are sure to return refreshed.
Make an out-of-the-ordinary experience out of an ordinary meeting. The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo offers a bold and adventurous spot for corporate meetings and events. What’s more, it has an abundance of meeting areas to fit any budget.
Consider the options: an indoor auditorium with theater-style seating and a capacity of 200; a conference room with a wall of windows overlooking zoo exhibits and a capacity of 100; and the ever-popular RainForest, which offers corporations the ability to entertain in style with a space, surrounded by the tropics, that seats 300. All meeting spaces come with the necessary audiovisual equipment.
“The zoo is reasonably priced and offers a lot of different spaces with built-in entertainment,” says Positively Cleveland’s vice president of convention and visitor services, Sharon Gronowski. “Plus, on-site catering and liquor licenses can ease some of the burdens of planning, too, particularly in a slightly nontraditional location.”
Planners can also look south to the Akron Zoo, which offers a variety of corporate meeting spaces as well, including a boardroom that seats 20 and scenic classrooms with a capacity of 40.
For Wine Enthusiasts
Wine lovers should look no further than Ashtabula County. With arguably world-class pinot gris, riesling and gewürztraminer, this region offers a great food-and-wine destination close to home.
Companies can conduct business while employees sip the region’s great whites and reds; learn about grapes, agriculture and food pairing; and even take wine-tasting lessons. Many of the wineries in Ashtabula County offer meeting rooms: small, intimate spaces that hold up to 40 people and auditoriums that can hold 150. Debonne Winery, for example, holds corporate meetings in its pavilion, with large bay windows overlooking its vineyard, for 150 people.
What’s more, the vineyards offer a great destination for team-building activities. The Ohio Wine Producers Association’s Donniella Winchell says the staff has helped many organizations build custom packages designed around the wine and vineyards for this very purpose.
Depending on the season, a company could meet in the morning at any of the local wineries’ meeting spaces. Then, employees could roll up their sleeves and head to the vineyard for an afternoon of picking grapes and transferring them to the wine press in the cellar. That evening, attendees could enjoy dinner and sip on wine made from the same grape varieties they spent the day picking.
“It’s an escape to a serious wine region,” says Winchell, executive director of OhioWines.org. “It’s a wonderful food and wine destination that becomes a cultural pride near home.”
For Football Fanatics
Why not take your next group exercise to the Hall of Fame of team building? At Canton’s Pro Football Hall of Fame, companies can conduct business while learning about the origin and development of professional football and browsing NFL memorabilia.
The Hall of Fame currently displays the original meeting minutes from the NFL’s founding in Canton on Sept. 17, 1920. This historic two-page document, which will only be on display through the fall to limit its exposure to light, is the hall’s rarest and most-prized item.
Parties can be casual or elegant. Companies can rent the entire hall or individual meeting rooms and boardrooms. The hall offers full-service catering and event-planning staff. It includes audiovisual and other necessary meeting equipment at no additional charge. And the cost includes museum admission.
“The Hall of Fame is really the crown jewel in Canton,” says Allyson Bussey, tourism marketing manager for Canton/Stark County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s such a unique place that everyone should experience in their lifetime. Whether it’s a fun after-hours party or a team-building exercise, the atmosphere lends itself to greatness.”
For Nature Admirers
For your next company retreat, get away from the big city lights and into a serene oasis of nature and wildlife. The Inn & Spa at Honey Run, located in the woods a few miles outside of downtown Millersburg in Amish country, is the perfect destination to relieve stress with its peaceful surroundings and the fine dining and hospitality we have come to expect.
The Main Lodge, Honeycombs and Tree Top Cafe are available for working lunches, team-building activities, board meetings and conferences. All meeting spaces come fully equipped with audiovisual and other technology needs.
For breakout sessions or downtime, attendees can walk nature trails along streams, hilltops and woodlands; learn knitting, calligraphy or floral design from local artisans; or simply relax at the Inn’s Wellness Spa.Services include reflexology treatments and Breema bodywork, a technique in which therapists use gentle stretches and rhythmic movements to energize clients.
“Amish country’s biggest advantage is its ability to immerse visitors in a place of authentic tranquility,” says Kurt Kleidon, public relations adviser for the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. “When you walk out of a meeting facility and are met only by the sounds of nature and an occasional buggy rolling along, the entire setting becomes a part of your event.”