With "an abundance of natural beauty" and a lot of “unique venues for meetings and special events,” Lake County has everything groups could want, according to Visit Lake County President Maureen Riedy.
Seriously. The region just north of Chicago, encompassing towns like Deerfield, Libertyville and Waukegan, has 200 lakes and rivers, 30,000 acres of forest preserves, three resorts, 60 hotels, event spaces from historic farms to edgy clubs, leisure options covering shopping to paddling and proximity to O’Hare International Airport.
Even better: Venues can execute. Eleven Fortune 500 companies call Lake County home and they make full use of area meeting spots, guaranteeing planners the highest level of service, as we find in this mini tour.
Greenbelt Cultural Center (North Chicago) offers “a natural setting in a totally modern building,” says Linda Carlstone of Lake County Forest Preserves, which operates the venue. Set in a preserve, the popular space has a large, divisible hall and two classrooms—all with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a spread of prairie, woods and pond—and a boardroom. Expanded in 2011, the green building seats up to 310 guests and has an indoor living plant wall, art galleries and outdoor patios. “Your company will be the only business of the day. [Here, staff] will just be looking after you,” notes Carlstone.
Elawa Farm (Lake Forest) was built in 1917 as a gentleman’s farm for a prominent Chicago family scion. Today, the stunning complex and working gardens are sought-after for private “think tank” sessions and indoor/outdoor team events for up to 200, says Natalie Moore, program and events manager. An on-site chef can also cater events.
Age of Elegance
Genesee Theatre (Waukegan) is “the crown jewel of Lake County,” says General Manager Jan Gibson. The 1927 movie house—with Spanish Mediterranean décor and an enormous Baccarat crystal chandelier in the Grand Lobby—is a grand, “elegant space that conveys a 1920s formality and a sense of history,” she says. An open floor plan means all 2,400 seats have a clear view of the stage. Seven lounges, holding up to 120 guests each, work for breakout sessions, meals or smaller gatherings. One has views of Lake Michigan and historic buildings; another opens onto a terrace behind the marquee. Groups of 250 can dine (and dance) onstage. The Pavilion Ballroom adjoining the 1916 Venetian-style Cuneo Mansion and Gardens (Vernon Hills) seats up to 300 for banquets, while its large terrace brings 97 acres of lovely gardens and woodlands up close. The mansion is undergoing renovations by new owner Loyola University Chicago and is planned to reopen in spring 2016, says Daphne Stojiljkovic, marketing and sales specialist.
A former concert venue, Viper Alley (Lincolnshire) has that industrial-chic vibe you’d find in the city, says Laurie Gens, director of corporate and charitable events. That’s a huge part of its appeal; so is the multimilliondollar A/V system, 19 video screens, large stage and bar and six-lane boutique bowling alley, “which works out really well for teambuilding” and can be covered for additional seating, says Gens. The on-site Reverb Café is easily turned from dark and clubby to bright and airy for classroom-style events when the entire venue is rented, she adds. On-site catering (including a wood-burning pizza oven) and many team activities accommodate 350 seated guests or 500 for receptions. Venue One North Shore (Deerfield) opens this fall for events of up to 1,500 attendees. Event Creative (also owners of the first Venue One in Chicago’s West Loop) spent $2 million to transform the former Chicago Bulls’ Berto Center practice facility into 85,000 square feet of private event space with large outdoor garden, wine room and restaurant-caliber kitchen.
Shakou Sushi (Libertyville) opened in 2013 and has become the place to dine, hang and host events. The award-winning, modern Japanese cuisine is delightful ; so are the soft lounge seats, crystal chandeliers, glass tile and sculptural, silver wave wall—all accented by purple LED lights. The mezzanine lounge features a private bar and can accommodate 75 guests or seat up to 60. The Shakou Room holds 30 guests for more intimate events; the main level dining room accommodates 170 guests; and the cocktail lounge (also on the main floor) accommodates up to 80 guests. The entire venue (the main floor and mezzanine lounges) can host up to 300. Guests get a “city experience without the hassle of traveling to the city,” says Marketing Director Randi Moxi.
The urban-yet-cozy Amber Room at Mickey Finn’s Brewery (Libertyville) hosts corporate events like crazy during the week for groups with up to 185 seated guests or 250 for cocktails, says co-owner Jetta Grano. The big draws include exposed brick, high-tech A/V, a custom-made, three-sided bar, easy parking and windows into the award-winning craft brewery—the county’s first.
Planners like the Hyatt Deerfield for “our expertise and the ease of getting things done here,” says Social Catering Manager Jill Ross. The full-service property is conveniently located, has 300 guest rooms and 20,000 square feet of function space for 450 attendees. Highlights include the light and airy atrium, two ballrooms (one with a wall of windows) and large outdoor patio.
The newly renovated Lincolnshire Marriott Resort is made for meetings with 72,000 square feet of flexible space, including the Grand Ballroom (capacity for 1,250), the Marquee Pavilion (capacity for 1,300 banquetstyle), an exhibition center and four outdoor pavilions. The PGA Golf Course and tennis complex are great for team-building and can also host activities such as charity bicycle building and craft beer tastings. Guests will enjoy the live musical theater, four restaurants and lounges, two pools and 389 well-appointed guest rooms.
At KeyLime Cove Indoor Waterpark Resort (Gurnee), planners get “a much higher turnout” for meetings with overnight stays because attendees can bring their families, says Sales and Catering Director Elizabeth Porter. Flexible meeting space (three rooms and a boardroom) for 380 guests or 480 theater-style is set far from the fun for a quiet, productive work environment. Creative team-building and private dining in themed restaurants ensures people aren’t bored, says Porter. More than 400 guest rooms and nearby attractions are added bonuses.