Sarasota-Manatee may not have a dedicated, high-end conference center with major meeting and exhibit space, but there is no shortage of business meeting venues of all sizes and amenities. If you’re contemplating an intimate corporate retreat, a conference that will bring in hundreds of attendees, or a weekend training session for 75 employees, you can stay local. We’ve compiled a must-keep chart on pages 38-39 that lists 75 facilities with all the pertinent information
to get you started.
Just in time, too. After several tough years, the meetings industry is showing signs of life.
“Since last summer, clients have been spending a little more money,” says Terry Blumenstein, partner at Sarasota-based meeting-planning agency Coordination Plus. “They’re considering hotels where the price for rooms or food is a little more expensive.”
Kelly M. Defebo, sales manager for the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau, agrees—up to a point. “The purse strings are loosening a little, but budgets are still reduced,” she says. “Meeting planners are looking for the ability to keep the quality of the meeting high with a reduced budget.”
Here’s what planners are looking for today: value. Clients want shorter meetings more tightly packed with relevant speakers and breakout sessions. Receptions may be scaled back, offering only beer and wine instead of a full bar, or passed appetizers instead of a sit-down dinner. Specialty food items might be passed over in favor of simpler—and therefore cheaper—choices.
If another group is in the hotel at the same time, planners might coordinate menus and offer similar dishes in order to cut food and beverage costs. “They’re also looking at hotels that don’t penalize them for attrition,” says Defebo. “If they say they’re going to have 100 rooms on one night and only end up having 80, they’re looking for a hotel that will waive any penalty fee or work out a deal in some other way.”
“It is a buyer’s market,” says Rhonda Holliday, director of resort sales for the Longboat Key Club & Resort. “Groups are shopping every detail of their meeting, from airport transfers to coffee breaks, and are looking for value-added items.”
Plus, no company wants to be seen as organizing an over-the-top lavish affair. The “AIG effect” has made all meeting planners aware of the pitfalls of extravagant wining and dining while so many others are tightening their belts. “[Company CEOs] will not sign until they are convinced the business purposes and goals of the trip are clearly defined and the costs are justified,” says Holliday.
So planners don’t hesitate to eliminate elements not deemed absolutely necessary. “People have really cut back on the little frilly things, like not having centerpieces or specialty linens or maybe entertainment,” says Kim Pate, director of sales at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota.
Another must-have: high-speed wireless Internet access. Everyone is connected to their iPads or BlackBerries these days, and meeting attendees require it in the meeting space, says Pate. If a hotel or meeting facility doesn’t offer free Wi-Fi, the client will need to add that cost into the overall budget.
Groups also want to make a connection with the community in which they hold their event as a way to make their meetings more meaningful for attendees. It’s also good company P.R. “Corporate social responsibility has been around for a while, but it’s turning into a big trend at meetings,” says Defebo. “Planners ask me for local organizations they can contribute to through volunteer work.” That might include packing bags of canned goods for a local food pantry or participating in a Habitat for Humanity project.
“We had a group in for a team-building event, and they decided to build playhouses,” says Pate. “They had a competition among the team, built three or four playhouses, and then donated them to a local organization.”
Though many meetings these days are still booked within a relatively short time (think 90 to 120 days out), planners are starting to look down the road and secure venues and dates for 2012. “If you’re looking a year out and even two years out, it’s getting more difficult to find the space you need,” says Blumenstein.
“We’re ahead of our booking pace over last year for 2011,” says Pate. “Things are coming back slowly. I think 2011 will still be a little bit of a challenge, but I do see things recovering.”
While bookings are picking up, prices won’t see an uptick for awhile. “Prices are pretty much holding now,” says Debbie Meihls, executive manager of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’ll be a few years before people can spring back to the old prices.”
And no one wants to risk losing bookings over prices that might be a little too high, especially as the industry remains highly competitive. Secondary markets like Sarasota and Manatee tend to be more affordable than primary markets like Orlando or Las Vegas, and more companies are now considering them, says Defebo. But that also means that, “Smaller destinations like Sarasota have to compete with larger ones that have more meeting space, more hotels, bigger budgets, and more flexibility to play with rates and offer larger incentives,” she says.
That’s why the local meetings business prides itself on customer service and does everything it can to work with potential clients. “Because we have hotel chains but don’t have the big flags [in the Bradenton area], we’re able to work with the meeting planners better and offer packages tailored to them,” says Meihls.
The Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau will sponsor receptions or other events for companies and groups that are in town for a meeting and are bringing in a big crowd that will fill hotel rooms and spend money. They’re a way to introduce the whole group to the area, thank the group for its business, and secure some repeat business as well. This tactic helps convince local businesses to hold their meetings here rather than in another destination. “We like to talk to companies and see what they need and how we can assist,” says Defebo. “Whatever will help keep their business here, we’re open to that.”
Here’s your list of the region’s top 73 event venues.
Compiled by Forest Balderson
8005 15th St., E.
Sarasota, FL 34243 941-355-9161 sbicc.net # of Rooms: 5 Total Sq. Ft.: 93,000* Capacity: 5,000
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
777 N. Tamiami Trail
Sarasota, FL 34236
# of Rooms: 4
Total Sq. Ft. 60,000 Capacity: 5,550
Manatee Convention Center P.O. Box 1000
Bradenton, FL 34206 941-722-3244 ext. 226 manateeconvention center.com # of Rooms: 7 Total Sq. Ft.: 32,400 Capacity: 4,000
State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota 5840 26th St., W. Bradenton, FL 34207 941-752-5300 mccfl.edu # of Rooms: 5 Total Sq. Ft.: 28,000 Capacity: 2,300
PAL Sailor Circus 2075 Bahia Vista St. Sarasota, FL 34236 941-361-6350 sailorcircus.org # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 27,000 Capacity: 2,500
Stardust Event Center/Skate Center 2571 12th St.
Sarasota, FL 34237 941-365-6888 stardusteventcenter.com # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 24,400 Capacity: 1,260
Hyatt Regency Sarasota 1000 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota, FL 34236 941-953-1234 sarasota.hyatt.com # of Rooms: 20 Total Sq. Ft.: 22,000 Capacity: 700-1,250
Sun-N-Fun RV Resort 7125 Fruitville Road Sarasota, FL 34240 941-371-2505 sunnfunfl.com # of Rooms: 8 Total Sq. Ft.: 22,000 Capacity: 450-1,200
Sarasota Opera 61 N. Pineapple Ave. Sarasota, FL 34236 941-366-8450 sarasotaopera.org # of Rooms: 6 Total Sq. Ft.: 20,000 Capacity: 1,950
Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota 1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive Sarasota, FL 34239 941-309-2000 ritzcarlton.com/resorts/sarasota # of Rooms: 11 Total Sq. Ft.: 18,000 Capacity: 800-1,200
John & Mable
Ringling Museum 5401 Bay Shore Road Sarasota, FL 34243 941-359-5700 www.ringling.org # of Rooms: 2 Total Sq. Ft.: 13,500 Capacity: 1,200
The Longboat Key
Club & Resort 301 Gulf of Mexico Drive
Longboat Key, FL 34228 800-237-8821 longboatkeyclub.com # of Rooms: 7 Total Sq. Ft.: 12,000 Capacity: 150-250
The Powel Crosley Estate P.O. Box 1000
Bradenton, FL 34206 941-722-3244 crosleyestate.com # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 11,000 Capacity: 200
City of Sarasota Municipal Auditorium 801 N. Tamiami Trail Sarasota, FL 34237 941-954-4165 auditorium.sarasotagov.com # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 10,000 Capacity: 750
Florida Studio Theatre 1241 N. Palm Ave.Sarasota, FL 34236 941-366-9000 floridastudiotheatre.org # of Rooms: 6 Total Sq. Ft.: 9,900 Capacity: 515
Laboratory & Aquarium 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway
Sarasota, FL 34236 941-388-4441 mote.org # of Rooms: 4 Total Sq. Ft.: 9,825 Capacity: 1,185
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens 811 S. Palm Ave.Sarasota, FL 34236 941-366-5731 selby.org # of Rooms: 8 Total Sq. Ft.: 8,300 Capacity: 250
Bentley’s 1660 S. Tamiami Trail Sarasota, FL 34229 941-966-2121 bentleyssarasota.com # of Rooms: 6 Total Sq. Ft.: 6,500 Capacity: 32-320
Banquet Hall 509 Ninth St., E.
Bradenton, FL 34208 941-745-5125 manateecentral.com # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 6,000 Capacity: 275
The Chelsea Center 2506 Gulf Gate Drive Sarasota, FL 34231 941-927-7689 chelseacenter.com # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 6,000 Capacity: 300-400
Courtyard by Marriott Bradenton/
Sarasota Riverfront 100 Riverfront Drive W. Bradenton, FL 34205 941-355-3337 courtyard.com/srqbd # of Rooms: 3 Total Sq. Ft.: 6,000 Capacity: 150-300
Lido Beach Resort 700 Ben Franklin Drive Sarasota, FL 34236 941-388-2161 lidobeachresort.com # of Rooms: 8 Total Sq. Ft.: 6,000 Capacity: 200-350
Country Club 5601 Country Club Way
Sarasota, FL 34243 941-355-9733 palmaire.net # of Rooms: 3 Total Sq. Ft.: 5,534 Capacity: 90-300
The Players Theatre 838 N. Tamiami Trail Sarasota, FL 34236 941-365-2494 theplayers.org # of Rooms: 2 Total Sq. Ft.: 5,500 Capacity: 550
Mixon Fruit Farms 2712 26th Ave., E. Bradenton, FL 34208 941-748-5829 mixon.com # of Rooms: 4 Total Sq. Ft.: 5,250 Capacity: 550
The Golden Apple
Dinner Theatre 25 N. Pineapple Ave. Sarasota, FL 34236 941-366-5454 thegoldenapple.com # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 5,000 Capacity: 280
City of Sarasota Payne Park Auditorium 2100 E. Laurel St. Sarasota, FL 34237 941-954-4165 auditorium.sarasotagov.com # of Rooms: 2 Total Sq. Ft.: 4,100 Capacity: 450
Sarasota Orchestra 709 N. Tamiami Trail Sarasota, FL 34236 941-953-4252 sarasotaorchestra.org # of Rooms: 2 Total Sq. Ft.: 3,800 Capacity: 690
Golf Club 7700 Lindrick Lane Bradenton, FL 34202 941-322-1922 ext. 103 theconcession.com # of Rooms: 3 Total Sq. Ft.: 3,735 Capacity: 33-350
Holiday Inn Sarasota/Bradenton Airport 8009 15th St. E. Sarasota, FL 34243 941-358-3800 hisrq.com # of Rooms: 3 Total Sq. Ft.: 3,200 Capacity: 65-200
Hilton Longboat Key Beachfront Resort 4711 Gulf of Mexico Drive
Longboat Key, FL 34228 941-383-2451 longboatkey.hilton.com # of Rooms: 4 Total Sq. Ft.: 3,000 Capacity: 75-125
Stoneybrook Golf Course 7515 Grand Harbor Parkway
Bradenton, FL 34212 941- 749-1842 stoneybrookgolfbradenton.com # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 3,000 Capacity: 150
The Riverhouse at
Regatta Pointe 1001 Riverside Drive
Palmetto, FL 34221 941-721-3800 manateeriverhouse.com # of Rooms: 2 Total Sq. Ft.: 2,725 Capacity: 70-270
G. WIZ- The
Science Museum 1001 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota, FL 34236 941-309-4949 gwiz.org # of Rooms: 4 Total Sq. Ft.: 2,500 Capacity: 500
Sandcastle Hotel 1540 Ben Franklin Drive Sarasota, FL 34236 941-388-2181 helmsleysandcastle.com # of Rooms: 3 Total Sq. Ft.: 2,500 Capacity: 110-225
Lakewood Ranch 6231 Lake Osprey Drive Sarasota, FL 34243 941-782-4400 hilr.com # of Rooms: 7 Total Sq. Ft.: 2,500 Capacity: 100-225
LECOM 5000 Lakewood Ranch Blvd.
Bradenton, FL 34211 941-782-5654 www.lecom.edu # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 2,500 Capacity: 212
Historic Asolo Theater 5401 Bay Shore Road Sarasota, FL 34243 941-360-7399 ringling.org/theatre.asp # of Rooms: 1
Total Sq. Ft.: 2,300 Capacity: 260
Homewood Suites 3470 Fruitville Road Sarasota, FL 34237 941-365-7300 sarasota.homewoodsuites.com # of Rooms: 3 Total Sq. Ft.: 2,300 Capacity: 50-70
Holiday Inn Lido Beach 233 Ben Franklin Drive Sarasota, FL 34236 941-388-5555 lidobeach.net # of Rooms: 2 Total Sq. Ft.: 2,048 Capacity: 72-150
The Spirit Center 2506 Gulf Gate Drive Sarasota, FL 34231 941-927-7689 chelseacenter.com # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 2,000 Capacity: 70-140
Hampton Inn & Suites Sarasota/Bradenton Airport 975 University Parkway Sarasota, FL 34243 941-355-8140 hamptoninn.com # of Rooms: 3 Total Sq. Ft.: 2,000 Capacity: 60-100
Keiser College 6151 Lake Osprey Drive Sarasota, FL 34240 941-907-3900 x243 keiser-college.com # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 2,000 Capacity: 75-80
Venice Train Depot 303 E. Venice Ave. Venice, FL 34285 941-861-1382 scgov.net # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 1,920 Capacity: 100
Hilton Garden Inn 8720 N. Tamiami Trail Sarasota, FL 34243 941-552-1100 stayhgi.com # of Rooms: 3 Total Sq. Ft.: 1,850 Capacity: 80-180
Selby Auditorium USF Sarasota-Manatee 8350 N. Tamiami Trail Sarasota, FL, 34270 941-359-4637 usf.edu # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 1,800 Capacity: 100-175
Tropical Breeze Resort/ The Pool House 140 Columbus Blvd. Sarasota, FL 34242 941-349-1125 tropicalbreezeinn.com # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 1,800 Capacity: 10-100
Holiday Inn Express 4450 47th St., W. Bradenton, FL 34210 941-795-4633 hiexpress.com/bradentonwest # of Rooms: 2 Total Sq. Ft.: 1,800 Capacity: 50
Best Western Ambassador Suites 400 Commercial Court Venice, FL 34292 941-480-9898 bestwestern.com/ambassadorsuites # of Rooms: 4 Total Sq. Ft.: 1,368 Capacity: 70-110
Town Hall 8175 Lakewood Ranch Blvd. 941-907-0202 lakewoodranch.com # of Rooms: 3 Total Sq. Ft.: 1,300 Capacity: 150-200
AmericInn Hotel & Suites 5931 Fruitville Road Sarasota, FL 34232 941-342-8778 americinnsarasota
hotel.com # of Rooms: 3 Total Sq. Ft.: 1,210 Capacity: 60-80
Historic Spainish Point 3337 N. Tamiami Trail Osprey, FL 34229 941-966-5214 historicspanishpoint.org # of Rooms: 3 Total Sq. Ft.: 1,200 Capacity: 100
Comfort Suites University Park 8305 Tourist Center Drive
University Park, FL 34201 941-360-2626 comfortsarasota.com # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 1200 Capacity: 50-70
Country Inn & Suites 5730 Gant Road Sarasota, FL 34233 941-925-0631 countryinns.com/sarasotafl # of Rooms: 2 Total Sq. Ft.: 1,200 Capacity: 45-60
Hampton Inn Sarasota 5995 Cattleridge Blvd.Sarasota, FL 34232 941-371-1900 hamptoninnsarasota.com # of Rooms: 2 Total Sq. Ft.: 1,200 Capacity: 75-90
ComCenter Lakewood Ranch/Virtual Offices 9040 Town Center Parkway
Bradenton, FL 34202 941-782-1200 comcenters.net # of Rooms: 6 Total Sq. Ft.: 1,200 Capacity: 24
Hotel Indigo 1223 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota, FL 34236 941-487-3800 srqhotel.com # of Rooms: 3 Total Sq. Ft.: 1,100 Capacity: 30-50
Holiday House 455 US 41 By-Pass N. Venice, FL 34285 941-485-5411 hotelveniceflorida.com # of Rooms: 4 Total Sq. Ft.: 1,000 Capacity: 100-300
The Bridgewalk Resort 100 Bridge St.
Bradenton, FL 34217 941-782-1137 silverresorts.com # of Rooms: 2 Total Sq. Ft.: 950 Capacity: 72
Holiday Inn Express 6600 S. Tamiami Trail Sarasota, FL 34231 941-924-4900 hiexsarasota.com # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 875 Capacity: 25
Hyatt Place Sarasota/Bradenton Airport 950 University Parkway Sarasota, FL 34234 941-554-5800 hyattplace.com # of Rooms: 2 Total Sq. Ft.: 875 Capacity: 50-80
ComCenter 70/ Virtual Offices 6150 SR 70 E.
Bradenton, FL 34203 941-755-0700 comcenters.net # of Rooms: 4 Total Sq. Ft.: 800 Capacity: 12
by Marriott 1020 University Parkway Sarasota, FL 34234 941-358-3385 marriott.com # of Rooms: 2 Total Sq. Ft.: 696 Capacity: 24
Marriott 850 University Parkway Sarasota, FL 34234 941-358-1468 marriott.com/srqcy # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 624 Capacity: 30-40
Sarasota 5778 Clark Road Sarasota, FL 34233 941-921-7750 choicehotels.com/hotel/fl814 # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 600 Capacity: 30-50
Days Inn Sarasota 5774 Clark Road Sarasota, FL 34233 941-921-7812 daysinn.com/hote/07695 # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 600 Capacity: 30-50
Courthouse Centre/ Virtual Offices 1990 Main St., Suite 750 Sarasota, FL 34236 941-309-5200 regus.com # of Rooms: 2 Total Sq. Ft.: 500 Capacity: 10-14
Hampton Inn &
Suites Venice 881 Venetia Bay Boulevard
Venice, FL 34292 941-488-5900 hamptoninnvenice.com # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 500 Capacity: 27-40
by Marriott 1040 University Parkway Sarasota, FL 34234 941-358-1468 marriott.com # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 500 Capacity: 12-15
Virtual Offices 100 Third Ave., W. Bradenton, FL 34205 941-567-1700 comcenters.net # of Rooms: 2 Total Sq. Ft.: 400 Capacity: 8
Sarasota Bradenton International Airport 6000 Airport Circle Sarasota, FL 34243 941-359-5200 srq-airport.com # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 300 Capacity: 20
Midtown 1425 S. Tamiami Trail Sarasota, FL 34239 941-955-9841 bwmidtown.com # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 276 Capacity: 20-30
Imaging 6709 S.R. 70 E. Bradenton, FL 34203 941-752-0550 jpiphoto.com # of Rooms: 1 Total Sq. Ft.: 250 Capacity: 12-20
*This list is ranked by total square footage.