Since it opened last June, the Connecticut Science Center in downtown Hartford has hosted a number of impressive events ranging from a Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. product launch to a fundraiser for Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd that was attended by Vice President Joe Biden.
“The Dodd campaign rented the entire facility for this 300-person luncheon, as they were looking for an unusual venue, and it worked well with the Obama administration’s science and education initiatives,” said Ed Main, publicist for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold-level-certified center.
The Connecticut Science Center more than met its first-year goals and expectations for facility rentals, a trend seen by science centers across the country.
Once considered primarily a destination for student groups, science centers are proving to be inventive, interesting venues that come complete with fun. Many nonprofit facilities are focused on sustainability and conservation, and off-site events often provide funding for their programs. Science centers frequently provide corporations with information on creating their own sustainability programs, ensuring a mutually beneficial partnership.
Liberty Science Center
Jersey City, N.J.
When Mars Snackfood US wanted to develop branding and marketing initiatives for its 2010 product line, the company met at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City.
“They knew we could stir their creative juices, so they held a three-day conference for 120 people here last August,” said Alison Conti, director of events.
“They used our new 40-person boardroom, visited the exhibits during breaks and had a scavenger hunt we put together,” she said. “They also had a cocktail reception in the glass Observation Deck as well as an Oscar ceremony in the 120-seat Interactive Theater.”
In Liberty State Park across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan and near New Jersey’s research and development companies, the 300,000-square-foot center has a built-in corporate market. It’s focus on technology and innovation also appeals to companies.
“Many of our client corporations already have a relationship with us,” said Conti. “Meeting planners are trying to do more with their dollars, and choosing our venue gives them the option of supporting our programs as well.”
Most meetings at the Liberty Science Center number about 100 people, but receptions for up to 750 guests can be held in Science Court, a two-story space containing artwork that uses light and motion; the 11,000-square-foot Governors Hall can handle dinners for up to 725.
“Groups love being able to interact with our exhibits, and we try to let them experience as much as possible,” Conti said. “Having handlers bring in iguanas to receptions or learning how skyscrapers are constructed means built-in entertainment for any event.
“We also offer scavenger hunts in our exhibits and have team-building programs with hands-on activities, or groups can bring in their own,” she said.
The renovated center is also home to the 300-seat Joseph D. Williams Science Theater and the world’s largest Imax dome theater, which can seat 400.
“There’s no challenge or request we can’t accommodate except balloons and smoke machines,” said Conti.
The Science Museum of Virginia
“We put a little bit of science in every meeting we have here,” said Matthew Forrest, special events manager for the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond, which focuses on life and physical sciences.
“We have many activities for team building, including scavenger hunts, through our 200 exhibits,” he said. “And for corporate retreats, we have private demonstrations ranging from Segway races to basketball-playing rats trained by our animal lab to take a little ball to the hoop.”
Located in the historic Broad Street Train Station, the museum’s five-story domed rotunda can handle 500-person cocktail parties or dinners for up to 250. The museum’s largest space is the 13,650-square-foot Thalhimer Pavilion, a tented area with room for 800 for a reception.
“We also have the largest movie screen in the state, the Imax dome theater, that is perfect for an awards presentation for up to 250,” said Forrest. “The Discovery Room and RF&P Forum can each hold 150 for a reception and 100 for a seated dinner.”
The museum hosts some 300 events each year. Recently, Virginia Commonwealth University rented the museum for its annual alumni association gala with 1,500 attendees.
“We get events across the board from throughout central Virginia,” Forrest said. “People like it here because it is out of the ordinary, and our exhibits and events can really reinvigorate a meeting. We also have free parking and are right off interstates 95, 64 and 195.”
Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center
When meeting planners book an event at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center (GEHC), they often build in extra time for groups to tour the facility.
Interesting features of this LEED gold-level-certified building include a sloped, 1-acre vegetative roof — the largest in the Southeast — that reduces storm-water runoff. It is the first green building in Gwinnett County and sits on 233 wooded acres.
“Since we focus on conservation and the environment, we are happy to teach groups about our sustainability efforts,” said Jason West, director of development. “One recent example is the Merial Corp., which held a staff development meeting in our 150-person Ivy Room, then toured the facility and learned about its sustainable elements.”
Open since September 2006, the GEHC is 30 miles north of Atlanta between interstates 85 and 985. Exhibits focus on human interaction with the environment, as well as water resources.
“Although we are visited by thousands of students each year, we are a nonprofit, so corporate groups help with the bottom line,” West said. “Typically, we see groups from the Atlanta metro area that come for corporate meetings, training sessions and receptions.
“Our largest reception space is the multisensory, 2,048-square-foot Blue Planet Theater, which features a cascading waterfall into an infinity pool,” he said. “It was used by the Community Foundation for Northeast Georgia for award presentations during a 250-person benefit reception in April, and they also held a reception in our 200-person Waterways Exhibit Hall, which overlooks the grounds.”
The center also has a 200-person lecture hall, a boardroom for 20 people and three 80-person classrooms. “We also host all-day events like Cisco System’s family picnic day for 1,100 people in June,” West said. “They participated in lots of activities indoors, had a hayride and watched our educators give demonstrations on subjects like water quality.”
Discovery Science Center
Santa Ana, Calif.
There’s no such thing as a dull event at the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, where more than 100 interactive exhibits let meeting guests lie on a bed of nails, pilot airplanes in flight simulators and walk through a tornado.
“We encourage groups to engage in our hands-on experiences, which provide a built-in good time,” said Leslie Perovich, vice president of marketing. “Having receptions among our exhibits also makes it easy for people to interact, and there’s no need to bring in additional entertainment.”
The center has exhibits on everything from earthquakes to the science of sports. A life-sized interactive dinosaur adventure, the Dino Quest Game, is an unusual option for team building.
“Groups can also participate in scavenger hunts using clues from exhibits,” said Anne Curry, facility rental manager. “We find that adults enjoy the science and math behind the exhibits, and they learn a lot while they’re having fun.”
After-hours receptions for up to 1,000 can be held on both floors, as well as dinners for 200 in the Sunstage Area. There is a boardroom for 40 and the 4-D Discovery Theater that seats 125.
“The Discovery Science Center has an excellent space for presentations or panel discussions, and the exhibit area is very welcoming for a reception,” said Missy Stewart, marketing associate for the Knovel Corp., which held an event there in February for 100 attendees. “The event coordinator worked with us to make the atmosphere exactly what we needed for our event.”
The center is located on Interstate 5 and highways 22 and 57. Visible from I-5 is the Discovery Science Center’s iconic 10-story tilting cube, a landmark that recently became home to the center’s new Boeing Rocket Lab exhibit. Designed to simulate a rocket launch, the rocket lab is the first phase of a $6 million Space Exploration Gallery expansion project.
Ozark Natural Science Center
With neighbors like Tyson Foods and the Wal-Mart Corp., it’s only natural that the Ozark Natural Science Center (ONSC) is working to attract more meetings.
This rural field-science education and conference facility in northwest Arkansas between Huntsville and Eureka Springs is near 1,500 consumer product companies with offices that serve Wal-Mart.
“We are making a concentrated effort to host more groups and enhance our reputation as a great location for corporate retreats and facilitated strategy sessions,” said Bethany Stephens, who has been executive director since November.
With three lodges that sleep a total of 68 people and 50-person indoor and outdoor classrooms, the 89-acre site is popular with companies like Lewis and Clark Outfitters, an outdoor-goods business.
“They recently brought in a management team of 12 people, and it was a very good fit as they wanted to plan for the future of their company in an outdoor setting,” said Stephens. “After meeting and having lunch, they asked to tour the center and learn about our efforts toward conservation and stewardship of the Ozark environment.”
The facility also offers the Ewing Centre, which can seat 50 for dining or serve as a reception area.
“With a staff of educators and eight miles of trails, we are perfect for team building and are becoming known as a getaway for groups too,” Stephens said. “We also offer a great facility for reward days, with activities like hiking and canoeing that are fun and also help encourage sustainability efforts.”