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Ingenious ideas for off-site events

Courtesy Newport Hospitality

No surprise. The favored off-site venues in Newport, R.I., are three Gilded Age mansions, once the homes of the rich and famous, and now run by the Preservation Society of Newport County.

Yet, venues go far beyond Rosecliff, Marble House and the Elms in this historic city. Just ask Carrie Brown, with Newport Hospitality, a longtime destination management company based in Newport.

Like most destination management companies (DMCs), Newport Hospitality is full of ideas for events and the city where it is based seems to burst with interesting venues, including the marble manses on the Atlantic shoreline.

“Our favorites are our historic venues; that is because they are specific to the destination,” said Brown.

But as Bobbie Fakkema, founder and CEO of Events, Etc., a DMC in South San Francisco, pointed out, imagination is as important as bricks and mortar when it comes to planning events. She has been in the business for 30 years and shows no sign of falling into a rut.

“I try to give them something that is not obvious,” she said. “People in today’s world need to have something that turns them on.”

One recent example from her event portfolio is a reception held in a warehouse filled with Tuscan tile. The beautiful stone was used as décor and accents. Another, for a group with environment interests, was held at a showroom for Tesla, the maker of electric vehicles.

Here are some other ideas for off-site events from Brown and from Lisa DeLeon, senior vice president for Destination Tahoe Meetings and Events in Nevada.

Newport, R.I.
In Newport, many events are on or near the water, with good reason. Downtown skirts the water; the Newport mansions face the Atlantic. Boats of many descriptions bob in the harbor; a number of inns and restaurants are bay or oceanfront.

The range of waterfront options is good news for planners. “Perhaps with your budget, you can’t afford a mansion but you can afford a restaurant,” said Brown.

Events on boats are popular but come with a caveat: “The only option for bad weather is cancellation,” said Brown. Yet “we do a lot of receptions on a schooner. There is no better way to see Newport than from the water. But you really want it to be bright and sunny, with no rain.”

An old-fashioned clambake at Castle Hill, a former summer cottage that is now a 35-room inn, combines water views with the comforts of an upscale tent. Lobster and clams are delivered on white china in a sailcloth tent lit by lanterns. It is an upscale version of the traditional beachside bake.

“Castle Hill’s clambake is a nice balance, holding on to history and keeping up with trends,” said Brown.

By next year, another mansion will be open to events. Belcourt Castle, bought last year by the founder of Alex and Ani, a jewelry company, is being renovated. The mansion will have two ballrooms.

Another Gilded Age option is the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

“It is not on the water, but we book it a lot, and it is more affordable than the mansions.”

Even those who aren’t fans of the game enjoy its expanses and a courtyard dominated by a grass tennis court.

Not everything in Newport is from the Gilded Age. 41 North, a waterfront, boutique hotel, has meeting space and a large restaurant in downtown Newport. Belle Mer, on seven acres of lawn next to Narragansett Bay, has two sleek venues that can be used in tandem or separately.

Because Newport Hospitality has been in business since 1988, it has connections that pay off for planners.

The company has an exclusive arrangement to book Roughpoint, a former home of heiress Doris Duke run by her foundation. Appropriate for board meetings, it is an example “of what we can do that others can’t do,” said Brown.