Illinois 8th Annual Readers' Choice Best Of Awards

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Anne Nagro
Illinois Meetings + Events Magazine
Spring 2013

Savvy readers have spoken. You’ve cast your votes for the venues, entertainment options and services that are true partners, excel in creativity and deliver without fail. We’re proud to announce these choices for the Eighth Annual Readers’ Choice Best of 2012 Awards. So, drum roll, please. Here is the finest Illinois has to offer.

(Photo Credit: Navy Pier)

Winning its fifth Best Attraction award, this lakefront hub delivers a Chicago experience like none other. With 170,000 square feet of exhibit space, a historic ballroom with an 80-foot domed ceiling, 36 meeting rooms, rooftop and terrace, Navy Pier’s Festival Hall Complex excels at meetings, conferences and special events for more than 3,000 people. Besides incredible skyline views, guests can also enjoy the giant Ferris wheel, 50 acres of parks, shops, trolleys, tours, museums, live entertainment, restaurants and more. On-site, enclosed parking is available for 1,600 vehicles. More kudos for the excellent catering, flexible space and attentive customer service.

RUNNERS-UP // Lincoln Park Zoo; Museum of Science and Industry

Audio-Visual/Visual Presentation Provider
Impactful, artistic, original. The lighting, staging, video, audio and fabric systems crafted by Frost have the power to transform venues and transport guests to magical places. No wonder the imaginative firm is an industry favorite for spicing up the region’s top events. The Frost design staff is highly adept at balancing the technical and creative needs for a unique atmosphere guests will remember. Team members spend time understanding client’s goals, taste, style and budget. They have extensive knowledge of regional venues-from physical space to management regulations-for seamless productions that make a statement.

RUNNERS-UP // Intelligent Lighting Creations; Sound Investment

(Photo Credit: Odyssey)

All aboard for a morning, afternoon or evening event that guests are sure to remember. There’s no better way to experience Chicago’s skyline than on this three-deck ship cruising the Lake Michigan shoreline. Catering, entertainment, A/V and special equipment are available; and a $1.7 million renovation in early 2013 will boost the ship’s appeal even more. With flexible pickup and drop-off locations (Navy Pier is its regular berth), Odyssey accommodates groups up to 749 people year-round, with winter holiday parties being among the most popular. Odyssey is owned by Entertainment Cruises, which operates Spirit of Chicago, Mystic Blue and Seadog Cruises.

RUNNERS-UP // Entertainment Cruises; Tall Ship Red Witch

(Photo Credit: David Wittig, Food For Thought)

Catering Company (on- or off-site)
THE WINNER IS: Food For Thought
Since 1983, their delicious food and gracious hospitality have had event planners talking up Food For Thought, a preferred caterer of The Field Museum, Chicago History Museum, Millennium Park, Café Brauer, the Chicago Cultural Center and other distinguished venues. The company delivers a memorable dining experience, combining imaginative presentation and irresistible flavors for food that looks and tastes great. Consistent, flawless execution lets planners rest easy. In addition to fine catering, Food For Thought offers café services, contract dining and conference catering services, and even delivers gourmet food directly to your office for in-house functions.

RUNNERS-UP // Blue Plate; Phil Stefani Signature Events

Conference Venue
THE WINNER IS: Catalyst Ranch
This isn’t ordinary meeting space. Catalyst Ranch is a fantastic jam-up of colors, art, toys and eclectic furniture. The 15,000-square-foot space is fun, comfortable, nostalgic, even a bit disorienting. That’s the point: Ideas require inspiration, not a sterile environment. Besides, where else can your team lounge on pillows while developing the next big idea? From the intimate Foxtrot Room for up to 10 people to the Polka, a space that accommodates 110 or 150 for cocktail receptions, Catalyst Ranch will jump start your next planning, sales, training or innovation session.

RUNNERS-UP // NIU Conference Centers; McCormick Place

(Photo Credit: Choose Chicago)

Convention & Visitors Bureau - Town/Area 40,000+ in Population
THE WINNER IS: Choose Chicago
Choose Chicago is creating opportunities for hospitality and event professionals. An ad campaign featured in six markets delivered 378,000 incremental hotel room stays and $207 million in total spending-$161 for every $1 invested in the campaign-between May and September 2012. As the sales and marketing agency for McCormick Place and the city, Choose Chicago has big goals: Attract 50 million annual visitors and elevate Chicago as a top five U.S. city for international travelers by 2020, as well as book 50 new meetings or conventions and 2.3 million room nights each year.

RUNNERS-UP // Lake County CVB; Quad Cities CVB

(Photo Credit: Galena /Jo Daviess County Convention & Visitor Bureau)

Convention & Visitors Bureau - Town/Area Less Than 40,000 in Population
THE WINNER IS: Galena/Jo Daviess County Convention & Visitor Bureau 
What’s not to like about Jo Daviess County and the charming town of Galena? Tranquil river valleys, scenic vistas and rolling hills have guests coming back for more year after year. So does the region’s 1,100 rooms, 50,000 square feet of meeting space, golf courses, spas, winter sports, gardens, wineries, delightful architecture and rich history. The county-run CVB does an exceptional job marketing this premier destination, a three-hour drive from major Midwest cities. Planners love its personal and attentive support, from arranging lodging at first-class resorts and inns to identifying unique meeting venues and coordinating group-friendly restaurants and attractions.

RUNNER-UP // Rosemont CVB

Destination Management Company (DMC)
THE WINNER IS: Chicago Travel Consultants 
For three years running, this full-service agency has won our Readers’ Choice Award honors. It counts more DMCP certifications on staff than any DMC in the Midwest plus 24 years of expertise managing themed, team-building and sport events, galas, product launches, tours, theater shows, golf outings, transportation, productions and much more. Chicago Travel Consultants serves a who’s who of corporate America and is known for its stellar reputation, depth of talent and partnerships and ability to provide vendor price breaks and in-house insurance. Each year, the company operates nearly 250 programs with anywhere from 20 to 100,000 attendees.

RUNNERS-UP // ACCESS Destination Services - Chicago; ADH Meetings & Events

Entertainment (Performer or Talent Agency)
THE WINNER IS: Stitely Entertainment 
This agency knows how to get its groove on. Stitely Entertainment delivers quality music for private, corporate and public events with five bands: The Stitely Orchestra, Chicago Groove Collective, 312 Chicago, Stephanie Rogers Band and Alan Gresik Swing Shift Orchestra-all encompassing a team of DJs, jazz musicians, acoustic rock bands, string combos, soloists and more. Known for integrity and professionalism, Stitely musicians have performed at the House of Blues, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Taste of Chicago and Chicago Jazz Fest in a grand total of more than 1,000 events since 2007.

RUNNERS-UP // City Lights Orchestra; Carmel Music + Entertainment

Event Décor/Florist
THE WINNER IS: The Meetinghouse Companies 
Floral arrangements that incorporate vibrant color, uplifting fragrance and the latest design trends are a signature of this five-time Readers’ Choice Award winner. Whether whimsical, formal or avant-garde, the company’s one-of-a-kind creations complement intimate dinner meetings and spectacular galas, infusing events with a sensual, organic quality. Meetinghouse designers believe beauty resides in the details. They confer closely with clients to communicate an event’s vision, adding artistic illumination and spot-on décor elements for unforgettable visual impact. Fair trade, sustainably grown flowers are also available. The certified, woman-owned business also provides scenic décor, event production and technology.

RUNNERS-UP // Kehoe Designs; Ivan Carlson & Associates

Golf Club
THE WINNER IS: Harborside International Golf Center 
With two Dick Nugent-designed courses featuring rugged links exteriors, sculpted fairways and manicured greens, Harborside International is just 16 minutes from the Chicago Loop, making it ideal for business and shotgun outings, as well as group clinics. The prairie-style clubhouse, featuring Phil Stefani’s Pier 37 restaurant, accommodates up to 300 guests for meetings and banquets. Another plus is the personalized country club-style service. Harborside is the only Illinois golf center with multiple courses ranked in the 2012 Golfweek Best Courses: State by State listings. The facility also was compared to Scotland’s famous Muirfield course by two-time Masters Champion Ben Crenshaw.

RUNNERS-UP // Crane’s Landing; Medinah Country Club

Historic Venue
Winner of the Best Attraction, Navy Pier also nabs Best Historic Venue this year. A part of Daniel Burnham’s famed Plan of Chicago, this landmark was built between 1914 and 1916 for shipping and recreation. It became a military training site during the two world wars, and later, a college campus. Conventions were held here following the McCormick Place fire in 1967 but the pier later fell into disuse. The site was revitalized when the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority took ownership in 1989, and the not-for-profit Navy Pier Inc. assumed operations in 2011. Attracting more than 8 million visitors yearly, the 1.5-mile-long, 50-acre pier has top-notch meeting and exhibition space, amenities and attractions overlooking Lake Michigan.

RUNNERS-UP // Cuneo Museum; Chicago History Museum

(Photo Credit: Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel)

Hotel with Meeting and Event Space (more than 400 guest rooms)
THE WINNER IS: Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel
Built in 2006, this sophisticated suburban property has 500 guest rooms and 148,000 square feet of modern meeting space, accommodating events intimate and huge. The first-tier convention center has 100,000 square feet of column-free space, 30-foot ceilings and three built-in concession stands. It boasts an additional 48,624 square feet-or 30 rooms-for pre-function, breakout and conference activities. The 27,502-square-foot ballroom, the state’s fifth largest, glistens with Swarovski chandeliers. Also beneficial: A/V and production experts are on staff and private dining is available at the award-winning Sam & Harry’s Steakhouse. Another bonus is the free parking and shuttle service to Woodfield Mall.

RUNNERS-UP // Hilton Chicago & Swissotel (TIE); JW Marriott

(Photo Credit: TheWit)

Hotel with Meeting and Event Space (less than 400 guest rooms)
Want sweeping Chicago views? A spirited atmosphere? Impressive design, creative cuisine, built-in high-tech, expert service? This boutique hotel has it all, plus distinct spaces for conferences, meetings and special events. The glamorous 27th-floor rooftop lounge for 30 to 350 guests packs serious wow. Other favorites are a private theater, a tavern serving Midwest craft beer, a plush lounge and elegant ballrooms for groups up to 300. Seasoned on-staff planners assist with every detail. Plus, the theater district location means it’s a short walk or ride to the city’s popular Cloud Gate sculpture (referred to by locals as "The Bean"), Buckingham Fountain, lakefront, Riverwalk and more.

RUNNERS-UP // Lincolnshire Marriott Resort; Hotel Orrington

(Photo Credit: Bridgeport Arts Center Skyline Loft)

New Venue (opened between Oct. 1, 2011 - Oct. 1, 2012)
THE WINNER IS: Bridgeport Arts Center Skyline Loft 
With timber beams, exposed brick, soaring ceilings, inlaid wood floors and a Chicago skyline view, this "new" 18,000-square-foot space is most unique. Located on the fifth floor of the art center’s historic 1911 building, it easily transforms for corporate meetings or special events, including trade shows, holiday parties and product kick-offs. The loft accommodates 100 to 750 seated guests or up to 1,200 for a strolling reception. Five miles from downtown in the Bridgeport neighborhood, the space has large parking lots with optional valet service. Another cool feature: bathrooms designed by in-house artists.

RUNNERS-UP // City Winery & Radisson Blu (TIE)

Digital filmmaking and photography (plus event coordination, deejaying, graphic and web design) aren’t separate disciplines at Fig Media, but rather feed the collective soul of its multi-talented professionals who draw on the latest developments in these fields for inspiration. This think-tank approach has helped the boutique agency capture clients’ visions and deliver on-target visuals for more than 15 years. Whether documenting a corporate event, shooting a commercial video or packaging content in post-production, Fig Media’s attention to aesthetics and the human element delivers big results. Its expansive creative resources, extensive event experience and heavyweight clients seal the deal.

RUNNERS-UP // Gopho; Stuart-Rodgers Photography

(Photo Credit: Classic Party Rental, Wadsworth Theater)

Rental Service Provider (tables, linens, tents, etc.)
THE WINNER IS: Classic Party Rental
A planner’s perennial favorite, Classic Party Rentals once again secures top honors for providing the essential pieces that bring events to life. The national company supplies more than 1,400 items, from tents and rustic farm tables to specialty linens and themed props. Need something custom or not in stock? Reps make every effort to accommodate your needs. Planners value the 40-year-old company’s quality products, premium customer service and skilled installation. No wonder it’s the preferred source for high-profile functions like the Democratic presidential debate, movie premieres, Chicago Bulls, Bears, Cubs and White Sox events and much more.

RUNNERS-UP // Hall’s Rental Service, Inc.; BBJ Linen

(Photo Credit: William Pruyn, ZED451)

Restaurant with Private Dining Space
Experience a new take on dining at this River North establishment. One price includes a bounty of inspired soups, salads, cheeses, breads and charcuterie laid out on massive harvest tables while samplings of chef-prepared steaks, poultry and game are served tableside. The seasonal drinks are another specialty, featuring house-infused spirits and fresh ingredients. ZED451 has 18,000 square feet of event space in seven private and semi-private areas for intimate gatherings of groups up to 800. Custom tables, artistic lighting, contemporary furnishings, beautiful drapery and a fireplace create a stylish, yet cozy ambiance that makes guests want to stay a while.

RUNNERS-UP // Spiaggia; Riva

Team-building Activity/Facility/Organizer
THE WINNER IS: Corporate Event Interactive
Want to revitalize your corporate meeting, convey key messages or add excitement to client or employee events? Consider the interactive programs of this four-time Readers’ Choice winner, which has partnered with planners since 1987. From adventure races to team theatrics to Texas Hold’em, customized programs are fun, geared to groups of every ability and professional level and run by trained facilitators, emcees and event staff. Attention to detail, talented personnel and excellent customer service make this company stand out. CEI also provides expo management, exhibit and sponsorship sales, online registration and promotion and event staffing services.

RUNNERS-UP // Windy City Fieldhouse; WhirlyBall

Transportation (limo, motorcoach, taxi, shuttle)
THE WINNER IS: Windy City Limousine
Providing 24/7 service, this five-time Readers’ Choice winner operates 190 vehicles, including sedans, hybrids, limousines, executive vans, luxury minibuses and motor coaches. Quality assurance programs guarantee guests receive the highest level of customer service, vehicle cleanliness and professionalism. Besides airport transfers and greeter service, Windy City offers manifest management for large meetings and corporate events, as well as on-site coordination to assist guests at the airport, hotel or event site. Porters are available to help with luggage on arrival and departure dates. Point-to-point shuttles ferry guests to and from concerts, sporting events and evenings on the town.

RUNNERS-UP // Your Private Limousine; A-1 Airport Limousine Service, Inc.

Venue Outside Chicagoland
THE WINNER IS: Alpine Valley Resort
Hit the slopes or links as part of your next off-site meeting at this full-service resort in southeastern Wisconsin. It’s the only resort in the region with 120 ski-in/ski-out rooms. Skiers and snowboarders enjoy 20 beginner and expert runs and a terrain park. Group lessons and equipment rentals are available. The 18-and nine-hole golf courses, which wind through Sugar Creek Valley’s rolling hills and mature trees, are popular recreation spots. Additional amenities include bistro dining, indoor/outdoor pools and hot tubs, two tennis courts, as well as a lounge and arcade.

RUNNERS-UP // Grand Geneva Resort & Spa; Q Center

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