Unconventional venues

There it is, on your calendar: another corporate event. It’s probably in some hotel ballroom, with chicken Caesar salad (or the vegetarian option) for lunch, large projection screens in the front corners and a speakers’ podium up front.

For many such events, this is a fine solution. Other events, however, may be more suited to a venue that perhaps is a bit more unique. A little ingenuity can go a long way when searching for an out-of-the-norm location — whether it’s a mountaintop ranch, a bowling alley, or any number of places in between.

Hunter Buffington, owner of Sauce Promotion and Productions, a Northern Colorado event-planning company, is always on the lookout for creative venue options for meetings, galas, special events and gatherings.

“Often [event planners] use the most convenient venues — hotels, special-event and civic centers,” she said. “Thinking outside the usual event location is easier when you identify what you want to accomplish with your attendees. For team-building opportunities, outdoor activities and mountain venues can provide challenge and rugged beauty. Sports, speed or roller-coaster thrills can emphasize risk taking and motivational themes that will bring the office together.”

For fundraisers, Buffington considers zoos, aquariums and museums that present unique and extraordinary spaces. Smaller, more intimate gatherings that don’t require formal presentations fit well in art galleries, breweries, barns and historic buildings.

“There are local gems all around us, and sometimes all it takes is looking at a space with fresh eyes to see the possibilities,” she said. “A great event venue may be just around the corner, and with a bit of extra planning it can be home to a memorable and standout event.”

More often than not, a facility is equipped to handle corporate functions. Many have meeting planners on-site that work directly with an organization or their event planners.

Some of those venues have a unique flair.

One is eTown Hall, at 16th and Spruce streets in downtown Boulder. The 17,000-square-foot renovated church-turned-music venue/community center/future recording studio has been holding events since July as the finishing touches were being added.

“The sanctuary has been turned into a space that’s acoustically ideal. It really sounds great in there,” said Nick Forster, who founded eTown more than 20 years ago with his wife, Helen. “We’ve retained some of the original pews, but all of the seating is movable so we have a lot of flexibility. Whether it’s a concert, film or 200-person meeting, we’re confident that we have one of the best spaces around — and it’s all solar powered.”

To the southeast, on an 11-acre campus in Westminster, is the Butterfly Pavilion. The 30,000-square-foot facility houses the nation’s first stand-alone invertebrate zoo. Within the building is a large ballroom with a hardwood floor that overlooks the patio and the center’s Discovery Garden, as well as Jefferson County open space. The space has a warming kitchen for caterers, a fully loaded ballroom with wireless Internet, a sound system and presentation equipment including whiteboards and projection screens.

The entire zoo can be rented for special events, allowing guests to wander freely through exhibits and enjoy the millions of butterflies that inhabit the museum or attend
specific exhibits or workshops.

The family-friendly venue is an ideal location for inclusive events such as a corporate picnic or holiday celebration. On-site coordinators work with preferred vendors to help meeting planners easily facilitate events.

Greeley’s Kress Cinema and Lounge combines an independent movie theater with a full-service bar and restaurant. Located in the historic Kress Building in the city’s downtown area, the theater hosts private events that require auditorium seating or simply an intimate space for smaller gatherings.

“We’ve held many types of events here, from FACs in the lounge and bar area to business meetings in the theater,” said theater manager John Jankow. “We can project different kinds of presentations, including PowerPoint presentations, obviously films and pretty much any application that runs on a computer. We just hook it up to our projection equipment and you have a large-screen presentation right there.”

Local company Distortions Unlimited, which creates animatronics, zombies and aliens for the haunted house industry, screened the opening episode of their Travel Channel show “Making Monsters” at The Kress.

Some events require a bit more interaction. Shauna Gray, corporate and special-events coordinator at Chippers Lanes, handles the birthday crowd that schedules parties at the bowling alley, which has locations in Fort Collins, Estes Park, Greeley and Broomfield. In addition, she’s busy scheduling and developing primarily corporate team-building events.

“Bowling is inherently team building,” she said. The activities give coworkers a chance to have fun and build their working relationships at the same time. “You get a group of people together who may not work in the same department or group and pair them on a team, and all of a sudden they’re rooting for each other.”

Many corporations look at Jackson Hole, Wyo., as an ultimate destination for corporate getaway meetings. Alison Kyle, event planner and principal of Destination Jackson Hole, is tasked by many of her clients to create a unique experience for their meetings. Most of them focus on team-building activities in and around the small town of Jackson, known for its beautiful mountain settings.

In addition to wrangling event logistics, Kyle designs many of the activities. In one, she had several teams going from one location to another in Jackson, based on clues they were given, to collect seven playing cards. The team with the highest poker hand won. Events such as these, which take participants away from the office and stretch over several days, build a stronger sense of camaraderie that isn’t always accomplished in daylong meetings, Kyle said.

One of her favorite venues is Diamond Cross Ranch in nearby Moran. This historic working ranch at the foot of the Tetons sports a 14,000-square-foot event hall complete with a sound system and customizable dining options.

“Diamond Cross Ranch has a wonderful and unique program,” said Kyle. “They present a Horse Whispering demonstration where they take a nearly wild horse — one that has not been ridden — and after one hour, this horse is trained, through kindness and respect and discipline, to be ridden. It’s truly powerful to watch. It teaches the attendees how to build relationships based on trust. It’s very inspiring.”

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