April 2014

Scheduling events at Florida colleges and universities is a smart choice

by Lisa Simundson

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Between the attractions, the museums, the parks and the sunset cruises, finding an interesting off-site venue is rarely a problem in Florida. But are you really giving it the old college try? There are college and university campuses all over the Sunshine State, many welcoming private events as long as they don't conflict with regular classes. See that? Don't you feel younger already?

"It's nice for people to come back to a college campus and remember, or get a feel of what college is like," says Amanda Garcia, community relations manager for Miami's Florida International University, whose Biscayne Bay campus is home to the Kovens Conference Center, offering a variety of meeting and seminar rooms, tiered seating auditoriums and a computer lab. Advanced audiovisual support includes videoconferencing, satellite connections, webcast-ing, web conferencing and wireless Internet service.

"You get that young vibe," Garcia says. "It's a different space, not just a typical hotel conference room. You get a very cool perspective."

Following are some more cool options for on-campus group events.

Set on a 110-acre campus in Sarasota, New College of Florida is part of a university district that includes the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, the Florida State University Ringling Center for the Cultural Arts and the Ringling School of Art and Design. Facing Sarasota Bay, New College of Florida offers a number of waterfront spaces for events, including an expansive lawn, and indoor venues include the early 20th century College Hall, former home of circus magnate Charles Ringling.

Fresh from a recent $35.6 million renovation, Tampa's Sun Dome at the University of South Florida hosts more than 300 events annually. The dome has seating for more than 10,000, 10 premium suites seating 58 and a private club.

St. Augustine's Flagler College is, quite literally, a showstopper.

"It is one of the most unique banquet and event facilities in the Southeast," says Glenn Graham, director of conference sales for the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & the Beaches VCB.

Formerly the Hotel Ponce de Leon, a grand resort built in 1888 by Florida developer and entrepreneur Henry Flagler, today this National Historic Landmark is the centerpiece of Flagler College, a four-year university offering such event venues as the Crisp-Ellert Art Museum; Markland House, an estate home with all the charm of the Old South; and the Ponce de Leon Ballroom, reflecting the architectural heritage of the original hotel with Tiffany stained-glass windows and lavishly carved wooden columns.

Offering convenient proximity to downtown Gainesville and the regional airport is the University of Florida, where facilities can handle everything from small meetings to larger conferences and trade shows. Big events are welcome at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center, featuring 50,000 square feet of exhibit space and seating for 12,000, and the Reitz Union building, offering two ballrooms, two auditoriums and 27 meeting rooms. On the smaller side, University of Florida features art and cultural venues such as the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, the Squitieri Studio Theatre, the Harn Museum of Art and the gorgeous Baughman Center, where walls are basically composed of windows, letting in natural light and spectacular views of Lake Alice and surrounding trees.

"It's a very intimate setting. We're situated close to the edge of the campus, which allows nature to be the focus rather than other buildings," says Cassandra Holloway, event supervisor at Baughman Center.

In Daytona Beach, Daytona State College welcomes groups large and small to the Mori Hosseini College of Hospitality Management, which can host up to 800 in two assembly/dining areas. Another college venue, the News-Journal Center, is set on the banks of the Halifax River in downtown Daytona Beach and features an 859-seat main theater and a 264-seat studio theater.

Part of Greater Orlando but with a small-town ambience, lovely Winter Park is home to Rollins College, founded in 1885 and set on a leafy campus of historic buildings. Creative options for group events include classrooms in the beautiful Knowles Memorial Chapel and outdoor receptions on the patio of the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, featuring Spanish-Mediterranean architecture that complements a collection of more than 5,000 objects. For larger gatherings, Rollins offers a number of auditoriums along with the Warden Arena and McKean Gym, among others."

Ocala's College of Central Florida is home to the Webber Center and Klein Conference Center, offering 7,000 square feet of function space for meetings, luncheons and other events.


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