For corporate functions attendees will long remember, Connecticut companies seek venues certain to surprise



A company with its name emblazoned along the big screen of a flashing marquee would be in for more than an average business function — at Palace Theater in Waterbury, that is — if the company booked this spot for its annual meeting — a likely upgrade from mundane get-togethers of former years. For whatever company decides to rent this space, its employees are sure to be dazzled.


The Palace is among a number special venues in New Haven County that house corporate functions of every stripe; one of many places which manages to break employees away from the typical hotel ballroom, restaurant or catering hall.


“There has been growth in people searching out new and unique spaces,” says Sheree Marcucci, marketing and public relations officer for the theater, “giving guests something to marvel at instead of just hosting in a blank banquet space.”


Numerous business leaders agree, holding a corporate get-together at a space that is considered more “outside the box” tends to maximize the employee experience, in turn, engaging the business for the better. When employees are interacting with, or truly interested in, their corporate surroundings, they are in the stage to bond with the company and come away with a more positive experience.


So where else can businesses look to book their upcoming events, whether they are conferences, holiday celebrations, orientations, team-building parties, or annual meetings? The unusual spots below are just some of greater New Haven (and New Haven County’s) unconventional spaces where companies might find their own “new havens.”


Walking into the Palace Theater, which is on the National Register of Historic places, employees may choose to be greeted by their name in flashing lights, but the climax of their event will be their presentation — not exactly the one they may hold on the theater stage, but a scheduled Palace performance itself — pre- or post-business function. The theater boasts a diverse variety of shows, not excluding plays and musicals, comedians, concerts, operas and other theatrical productions. With a number of spaces to choose from within the building, a full-service technical director, or the option for a behind-the-scenes tour of the theater’s nearly century-old grandeur and architecture, employees will not be yawning or squirming in their seats.


Marcucci says the theater has been a corporate hit of late, particularly with nationally known organizations such as Major League Baseball and ESPN.


Apart from the idea of performances, some businesses may have a different kind of “art” in mind for their functions. When it comes to corporate fun and success, Art Plus Studio in New Haven literally “paints the picture” for companies and their employees. The venue welcomes coworkers to not only paint canvases together under the step-by-step instruction of a professional artist, but it has an array of team-building programs to boost employee relationships. Visitors can bring their own beverages and catering of their choosing. Employees have the option to work together to create a company mural, paint their own portraits or compete in groups and produce paintings that reflect their company’s mission or function theme.


“Our events stimulate creativity, demonstrate the value of a group effort, and give participants a sense of achievement,” says Erin Curley, private events manager for the studio.


She adds, “Companies are striving more than ever before to cultivate a climate that encourages creativity, productivity and loyalty.”


By setting the stage for employee interaction and inspiration, Art Plus Studio seems to project and provide the ultimate in attitude and atmosphere. Additionally, the studio’s guides can also travel to businesses’ offices or venues of choosing to host events.


Another out-of-the-ordinary event partner in greater New Haven is the Wine Institute of New England (WINE). The institute specializes in educational classes and presentations that cover all aspects of wine — including appreciation — and the entertainment is a free plus. When businesses opt to plan a customized event with WINE, they can decide on a venue and whether to partake in several team-building activities, such as blind tastings (where coworkers break off into teams to identify a “mystery” wine together), and role-playing (where, for example, coworkers can pretend they are trying to sell wine at a restaurant, and their recently-acquired knowledge will be tested).


Renée Allen, founder and director of WINE, says most wineries in Connecticut have been receptive to hosting WINE functions as well. She observes the business culture seems to be aware of the benefits of being versed in wine, to which she attributes her increasing requests for corporate functions.


“It definitely became a trendy thing to do,” says Allen.


If “trendy” is not quite what a company is going for, it can seek out an older space that feels, literally, like home.


At the Augusta Curtis Cultural Center in Meriden, businesses have three levels of rental space to choose from in the 100-year-old Greek Revival building, which housed the Silver City’s first library.


“We are a more engaging atmosphere,” says Staci Roy, executive director of the center, “as we have the feel of your own living room with working gas fireplaces and one of the only glass-floor rooms in Connecticut.”

The Curtis Center has hosted an endless array of corporate events, not limited to sales and lunch meetings, conferences and seasonal parties. The cultural center serves not only as a pleasant space rich with beauty, but a quaint atmosphere appropriate for professionals with an appreciation for history.


Venues like Augusta Curtis seem to “light” the way for “bright” ideas regarding spaces that skew from the norm, but the next space truly claims that notion — literally.  


At Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven, a company may come for a conference, but leave convinced to come back for the park’s beloved carousel.


While the 42-acre park is perfect for department picnics and different corporate celebrations, as it boasts a small building surrounded by grass and small hills along the beach, Sabrina Bruno, events coordinator at the park, mentions it is more challenging to host daytime meetings with the sunlight gleaming into the space where the still-functioning, century-old carousel resides. However, wi-fi is available “for the work (and play) world,” as Bruno notes.


Not far down the Sound, businesses can find another beach retreat — this one equipped with two pools and restaurants, bocce, basketball and tennis courts, and, appropriately, a tiki bar. At East Haven’s Silver Sands Beach & Tennis Club, all the club amenities are available for rental. The club’s beachside dining space is suitable for any function.


Whether attending for work or play, they of course still mean “business.”


Other local out-of-the-box corporate function ideas include Watson Adventures scavenger hunts (statewide), the New Haven-based THEY improv traveling entertainment group (which offers murder mystery dinners, comedy, game shows and employee motivation events), and local, team-building adventure activities hosted by national organizations such as American Outback Adventures & Events, and InnerWork.


Considering that Connecticut is rich with colonial history, it is no surprise to some venue owners that companies are seeking out many of these special facilities — the state is recognized for its countless historical houses and sites. Even museums and picturesque historic sites, such as the New Haven Museum, Waterbury’s Mattatuck Museum and Dudley Farm in Guilford provide education-rich surroundings featuring original exhibits, which offer that something extra to local employees scheduled to make required daytrips with their companies.


Of all the options Elm City professionals have for beyond-the-norm function sites and events, Mila D’Antonio, editor-in-chief of 1to1 Media, mentions the significance and demand for a social component at these sites as well — social media. D’Antonio’s company specializes in providing multimedia content and resources on customer, business and marketing strategy.


"Every component matters," says D’Antonio. "It is not just about the physical space."


She notes the necessary usage of event hashtags for social media network Twitter, as well as mobile apps and agendas available to companies attending conferences.


Such “networking” can leave room for even further and longer lasting connections.


D’Antonio agrees it is important to think “outside of the box” in order to keep employees engaged. She mentions she had also kept this in mind while planning a recent event at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, noting it was a place more people would be motivated to attend.


Creating an extraordinary and memorable experience, according to an online report by Benchmark Resorts & Hotels, is a driving force behind the growth in businesses’ initiatives to seek unusual venues for their functions, in addition to an enthusiasm for team-building activities.


“Those properties partnering with local assets, such as wineries, historic and natural wonders, intriguing adventure resources, and unique off-site reception & dinner venues have a strategic advantage in the pursuit and the capturing of meeting demand,” says the report.


Creative Producers Group, a company specializing in company engagement and event production, also suggests to “break the event design mold” and tradition, as it mentions in an online post.

Furthermore, employees should be anticipating an experience that is meaningful, memorable, and/or magical, as an excerpt from the e-book, The Executive's Guide to Corporate Events and Business Entertaining: How To Choose and Use Corporate Functions to Increase Brand Awareness, Develop New Business, Nurture Customer Loyalty and Drive Growth, by Judy Allen (2007), explains.


Allen stresses the advantage of generating a “wow” factor at events, with the purpose of sending attendees home with “an emotional and energetic high.”

D’Antonio reiterates it is important to choose something “new, unique or different,” whether it be a space, or even a speaker.


Businesses’ consciousness of the importance of innovative company outings, along with social media and client referrals, seem to be the reason for the popularity of more unusual venues being utilized, as Art Plus Studio’s Curley notes.


“The business world is evolving,” notes Curley. “Executives are learning the more they give, the more they’ll get back.”


Curley and WINE’s Allen have both reported a steady growth in requests for corporate-geared functions using their services; Allen also notes that companies must be picking up on the trend, leaving the venues with plenty to entertain.


They don’t plan on slowing down.


For the benefit of any business, greater New Haven continues to provide corporate gathering opportunities that “spark” almost any interest: Whether on a scale small or grand, Palace Theater’s Marcucci says, “People want to see their name in lights!”