Thinking outside the ballroom

Charities explore creative venue options for events

You’ve done it all. you’ve had crazy themes, the chocolate fountain, the interactive food stations and fire dancers. You’ve tried live bands and string quartets and deejays. You have raffled and live auctioned everything you can think of.

And yet, somehow you’re supposed to make this year’s gala better than ever.

Instead of adding more glitz and glamour (which, OK, we love too), why not think a bit outside of the box? And by box, we mean hotel ballroom.

More and more local organizations are getting creative with the venues they select for their galas. The results speak for themselves. Zoobilee — the annual fundraiser for the Naples Zoo, held annually at the Zoo — keeps growing each year. Several recent parties on the Naples Princess have sold out in record time. And last year’s Dream Gala at the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples was the talk of the town for weeks afterward.

“I remember one guest said, ‘Events can sometimes be so stuffy, it’s nice to go to an event and actually have a good time!’” said Heather Patton, C’MON’s Director of External Affairs.

Which is what your event should really all about: making sure your guests have a good time and donate lots of money. These venues can guarantee an enjoyable experience.

I’m on a boat: Naples Princess

There’s something to be said for having a captive audience, and hosting your event on a boat guarantees no one can leave until you hit your fundraising goal. Plus, it’s a great way to remind everyone how lucky we are to live here.

“Being on the water is what Naples is all about,” said Jenny Foegen, director of sales and marketing for the Naples Princess. “We can do literally anything from a seated dinner to a cocktail reception with a live band.”

The Princess can hold up to 150, and can cruise throughout the evening or simply sail out of the harbor and anchor somewhere for a while. “We’ll head out into Naples Bay and into the canals of Port Royal, people like to see those homes, although hopefully all those folks are on the boat,” Foegen jokes.

Catering is available onboard the triple-decker boat, with a full-service kitchen producing everything from canapés to seared scallops. Best of all, Foegen says the company tries to keep its rates low for local charity groups, so that most of the profit can go directly to the cause.

To book the Naples Princess, call (239) 649-2275. At least two week’s notice is needed before scheduling a private event. The boat’s max capacity is 150 for a seated or standing reception.

Charity in bloom: The Naples Botanical Gardens

Several of this season’s most talked about events happened at the Naples Botanical Gardens and for good reason — the gorgeous grounds of the garden are the kind of thing that you can’t help but gush about. This year, the garden really staked its claim as a legitimate event venue by adding a tented pavilion that hosts 1,000 guests.

“I think it’s become so popular because it’s such a great, centrally-located venue,” said Noelle Mickey, destination manager for Exclusive Destination Management, the event management company that handles all of the garden’s special events. “It really has grown into itself in the past few years, especially this year with the addition of the tented pavilion.”

Mickey especially loves doing progressive events in the space — moving guests through the different gardens as the night goes on.

“You can have a very different feel in each space, with different types of food and entertainment in each spot,” she said. Plus, it’s easy to make the different gardens feel intimate if you’re hosting a small group, or to take over the entire place with a large one.”

At this point, the trickiest thing about hosting your event at the Naples Botanical Gardens is getting the date you want. Mickey says that the venue is already booking events in 2015.

“I have had an event or two come in only three weeks in advance, but the sooner the better is my advice.”

To host your event in the garden, contact Exclusive Destination Management at (239) 325-1936.

A fundraising homerun: Hammond Stadium

Over the years, Hammond Stadium Manager Andrew Seymour has seen just about every type of event done on the 84-acre property where the Fort Myers Miracle play ball.

“Charity walks, road races, softball tournaments, fundraising dinners, we’ve really done it all,” he said.

For example, a few years ago the Boston Pops played a show at the stadium, but the field has also hosted pony rides and even a few weddings. The options are endless and it’s especially great for a large-scale event since the stadium can hold thousands.

One thing the venue really has the ability to do well is fireworks.

“If you want fireworks, we do them all the time here, so we’ve got everything you need to make that happen.”

The other thing that the stadium can make happen is scheduling requests. Seymour can actually think of a few examples where the stadium was able to convince the baseball league to plan Miracle Baseball games around private events. Just to be safe however, he suggests booking eight months in advance.

To book, contact the stadium at (239) 768-4210.

The venue formerly known as The Phil: Artis—Naples

As a general rule, if a venue is good enough to host the Naples Winter Wine Festival’s VIP dinner, it’s good enough to host just about anything. Artis—Naples actually sometimes gets overlooked as a venue, simply because it’s so impressive that people think it must not be rentable, but that’s not the case.

Kristen Carlson, the event services manager for Artis—Naples says the space has been used for everything from engagement photos to over-the-top galas.

“It’s just a really versatile space, we have planned many events where guests enter through the main Paley Gates, which make for a grand entrance.”

Depending on what your event requires, you can even request that the Naples Museum of Art be open for your guests to peruse. And if you want your function to include a show, massive Hayes Hall is available for rental too.

“One thing that’s nice is that we are a union house, so we’ll have stagehands here to operate all the lights and AV equipment,” Carlson said. “That means that your AV is guaranteed to be flawless.”

Rent every space from the Norris Gardens to Hayes Hall at Artis—Naples. To book, call (239) 254-2686.

A glitzy theater: Broadway Palm

Kathy Bernier, the director of sales and special events at the Broadway Palm, admits that getting your event scheduled at this glitzy Fort Myers theater can be tough. With nightly shows, special events are often restricted to breakfast, lunch and dessert hours. But that hasn’t stopped groups like the Fort Myers International Film Festival from hosting events here.

“If you want a Saturday night, that’s just not going to happen, but if you can be a little bit flexible it’s a great space,” Bernier said. Not only is the theater itself available for rental, but the Broadway Palm also has several smaller rooms for smaller groups.

“One thing that’s particularly nice about hosting your event here is that we’re entirely self-contained. We can do the catering, your lights and sound, we have the stage, everything, so you’re not dealing with a ton of different people,” Bernier said.

To rent the Broadway Palm, call (239) 278-4422, but be advised that shows run most nights of the week, so options are limited.

An event full of wonder: The Golisano Children’s Museum

When the original founders of the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples (C’MON) were dreaming up the museum, they knew they’d be creating a one-of-a-kind space for their kids to play. What they didn’t know was that the museum would become a favorite place for parents to play, too.

“C’mon is the perfect venue for an event. The energy the building gives off is contagious,” said Jodie Montgomery, C’mon Guild Vice Chair. And she’s right. There’s a sense of wonder that fills the museum’s main lobby — that tempts even the very serious among us to want to explore.

Plus, with all the exhibits on display, there’s not much need for additional decorations. While decorating for the museum’s first Oktoberfest celebration this year, Heather Patton, director of external affairs at the museum, overheard Mimy von Schreiner-Valenti, president of the Museum Guild, saying, “There’s virtually no need for décor, the museum itself is enough.”

The entire museum holds up to 500 guests and includes classroom spaces, an amphitheater and the main lobby space. Best of all, good times are practically included in the rental rates.

To rent the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples, call (239) 514-0084.

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