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The 2007 Best of the Industry Awards

By Barbara Axelson

Once again, Illinois Meetings and Events is pleased to present to you the front-runners in the meetings industry-professionals chosen by you, our readers, as the best of the best. Statewide, the votes poured in to support the finest of a notable group of companies that make it possible for meeting and event planners to shine.

To the winners, we say, “Well done!” This is a sort of People’s Choice Award, not the ideas of independent observers or editors but the opinion of people who are intimately involved-in the trenches of meeting planning-so it’s a true indication of the heights you have achieved.

And to our readers, hold on to this article because you have here the recommendations of many peers as well as an open door to even more meeting successes.

>>BEST ATTRACTION

TASTE OF CHICAGO is the biggest party held each summer by the city. There’s a huge screen at the Petrillo Music Shell, free concerts, city trolleys from the train stations, the Museum Campus and Grant Park (signs will direct you) and free admission. Food is the word!

Buy it via purchased tickets, as Chicagoland vendors outdo themselves to provide locally famous ribs and pizza, basic summer fare like Chicago-style hot dogs, Italian beef, Polish sausage and buttered corn on the cob, moving on to tiramisu, Italian ice and ever-popular cheesecakes. Fourth of July Fireworks launch from Monroe Harbor.

>>BEST TRANSPORTATION

Pulling once again into the winners’ circle is YOUR PRIVATE LIMOUSINE INC. Willing to work with the single traveler or “groups of thousands,” YPL has vehicles to meet any challenge. The fleet consists of late model vehicles and includes new model limo buses and mini-coaches, Cadillac sedans, Lincoln stretch limos and black 14-passenger vans just to start.

Chauffeurs, highly trained professional drivers dress in black suits with black mock turtlenecks to present a professional image. YPL does not charge for tolls, luggage, gas, pets, skis, airport taxes, airport stamps or city fees.

>>BEST CATERER

This state-of-the-art facility includes 75 chefs and more than 500 employees who cater 4,500 special events annually. BLUE PLATE CATERING, according to director of marketing Jasmine Huffman, grew 67 percent from last year in its sales and marketing goals. She says, “We’ve got a cutting-edge culinary team and also a creative manager on staff to find the newest trends and food.”

Customers include more than 100 of the Fortune 500 companies. Blue Plate offers a repertoire of excellent appetizers, entrées and desserts. Their exquisite flavors and presentations have won honors in culinary competitions the world over. Many of the chefs developed their skills in kitchens such as Chicago’s Four Seasons, Blue Water Grill, Charlie Trotter’s, Rhapsody, Echo, and the Ritz-Carlton.

>>BEST A/V PROVIDER, EVENT DÉCOR AND FLOWERS

THE MEETINGHOUSE COMPANIES has won again! Owner Deborah Borsum says, “We’re proud to be a unique source for all the different services that our clients need to produce an event-props, décor, audio-visual, floral, all in house, so we’re a onestop source. Our people have a passion and we’re excited and challenged by every project.”

The 32,000-square-foot design center features a collection of sets, fabrics and artistically detailed backdrops. Fresh floral arrangements and sound, lights and video production combine to contribute to fully integrated special events. A/V and projection equipment, lighting design and the newest audience polling technology are available along with a full complement of exhibit coordination, design and décor.

>>BEST RENTAL SERVICE

More déjà vu as HALL’S RENTAL makes its return as this year’s favorite. Since the late ‘50s, Halls has been family-owned and operated, taking care of events attended by ten to 10,000. Owner Jack Luft says his father purchased the business in 1958 and had two employees. Today there are 250. He adds, “We average 700 events per week and do 95 percent of it in the Chicago area.”

They’ve got it all-15,000 tables, 60,000 chairs, and 60,000 place settings-stocked in their 85,000-square-foot warehouse. The 3,500-square-foot showroom is 20 minutes from downtown. Private showcase rooms inspire event planners as they work with expert representatives. The fleet of 45 trucks is ready to deliver and pick up whatever is needed within a 150-mile radius of the city. Set-up and breakdown is available at a modest fee.

>>BEST BOATS/CRUISES/CHARTERS

ODYSSEY II, the largest fine-dining cruise ship on the Great Lakes, contains three climate-controlled decks and dance floors with live music. Observe Chicago’s skyline from every table. The 200-foot long vessel, reminiscent of the classic ocean liners, offers a creative menu and fine wines. The panoramic view captivates meeting attendees as they glide across the waters of Lake Michigan and enjoy appetizers, entrees and desserts prepared fresh onboard.

Reserving an entire deck or the entire ship affords privacy to suit a specific event. Full ship charters may be able to adjust boarding and cruising times. Odyssey, docked at Navy Pier, accommodates groups from 20 to 700. This is the only cruise ship that will dock at McCormick Place to accommodate its meetings and tradeshows.

>>BEST BANQUET/RECEPTION VENUE WITHOUT HOTEL

The SIGNATURE ROOM AT THE 95TH, located at the top of the John Hancock Center on the city’s Magnificent Mile, is a place to drink in the cityscape and enjoy that heady feeling of being “above it all.” Enjoy the art-deco ambience in a cozy, yet sophisticated atmosphere. Delight your taste buds with seared northern pike and jumbo lump crabmeat with braided fennel and orange herb butter sauce; round that off with red banana fritters and cinnamon gelato adorned with rum-scented dulce de leche-whew! Weekends offer live jazz. The internationally acclaimed wine cellar houses 250 wines from around the world.

>>BEST PHOTOGRAPHER/VIDEOGRAPHER

Laurie Proffitt, owner of PROFFITT PHOTOGRAPHY, has specialized in food photography for 20 years and has a long history of working with many high profile agencies and publishers and directly with first time buyers of photography. A vision of personalized service and understanding a client’s objectives and expectations enables the exact fulfillment of a client’s art direction and/or creating and projecting a new image of products through photography. For each project a crew composed of the most talented photo professionals in Chicago, including food stylists, prop stylists and digital technicians, is selected to best meet the parameters of a project.

>>BEST ENTERTAINMENT

CARMEL MUSIC & ENTERTAINMENT is an award-winning provider of a variety of services including a full roster of bands and entertainers exclusively represented by the company. Partner Melanie Kallal says the company serves the incoming meeting business and offers professional entertainers and a comprehensive roster of artists. “We help streamline business for the planner,” she says. Engage a band, quartet, trio, duo, solo musicians, and more.

Artists such as The Bandoleros, Fernandez + Kimball Spanish Guitars and pianist Andrew Lidgus, have made for some of the company’s more memorable bookings. Speakers include personalities such as Jim “Ang” Anderson who brings the history of Chicago Blues to life as he guides audiences on musical journeys from the Mississippi Delta to the Windy City.

>>BEST DESTINATION MANAGEMENT COMPANY

ACCENTING CHICAGO EVENTS & TOURS INC. is a full-service destination management company rich in creativity and experience in the meeting, hospitality, event and tourism industries. Owner Jacquie Brave says, “We do a bit of hand-holding. Clients are always in contact with a decision maker. We don’t pass them along down the line.”

The company claims expertise in special events, parties and receptions, incentive and interactive programs, customized tours, ground transportation, and meet and greets. They will book entertainment, coordinate vendor services, and create and manage events including hotel bookings, tours, activities, meals and admissions.

>>BEST HOTEL AND RESORT (LESS THAN 400 GUEST ROOMS)

LINCOLNSHIRE MARRIOTT RESORT, home to Crane’s Landing, is a three-floor 383-room, six-suite hotel in suburban Chicago. Home to the acclaimed Marriott Theatre, it has 22 meeting rooms that provide 40,000 square feet of meeting space. The largest meeting room offers maximum meeting space of 12,000 square feet and maximum seating capacity of 1,200. There are 15 breakout meeting rooms and also exhibition space on-site. “We do event delivery,” says Bryan Burton, director of marketing.

“We’ve added Wi-Fi to all meeting space and our theater is unique in the area with 882 seats in the round. It’s a popular evening activity for groups with no additional transportation required. On certain weeknights we can use it for meetings and awards programs.” Additional amenities: the Marriott Health Club and restaurants and lounges. A full-service business center and concierge desk, plus one concierge level, are available. Onsite parking is complimentary.

>>BEST GOLF

Take a swing at CRANE’S LANDING at Lincolnshire Marriott. New this year are golf carts with GPS systems and tournament scoring along with professional style leader boards. The 18-hole championship-style course was created by famed architect George Fazio to feature bent grass fairways lined with lofty trees and tightly bunkered greens. There are four par 3s, 12 par 4s and two par 5s, and 14 holes with water challenges. Woodlands and views of the DesPlaines River invite golfers to enjoy the par 70 layout across 110 acres. Dine at Crane’s Landing Bar and Grille.

>>BEST DESTINATION MARKETING ORGANIZATION

The CHICAGO CONVENTION AND TOURISM BUREAU runs the gamut of client services. “Make It Chicago” offers a one-stop resource to meeting planners on a complimentary basis. A Special Event Venue Search Engine provides information on sports, entertainment, restaurant, charter boat and museum venues.

They promote Chicago as a premier destination, with venues such as McCormick Place and Navy Pier, world-class cultural attractions, the global city, theaters and dining, to generate revenue for the city and state.

Meeting planners are walked through the process of securing meeting space, selecting where to go and planning special events. Business services request forms connect planners to everyone needed in the area to produce a stellar event.

>>BEST HOTEL AND RESORT (MORE THAN 400 GUEST ROOMS)

The HYATT REGENCY O’HARE comprises 1,100 guest rooms, including 42 suites, eight parlors, 531 king/queen, 529 double/double, 24 accessible rooms and 290 rooms with balconies/patios. Services and facilities include wireless high-speed Internet in all public areas, the Business Centre, concierge, complimentary transport from O’Hare International Airport, devices for persons with disabilities, gift shop, valet parking, multilingual staff, secretarial support and more.

Lisa Arias, director of marketing, points out that there is a new Web site for meeting planners and a new conference center with modular tables and ergonomic seating. Several popular restaurants offer different styles of dining. The meeting space totals 110,000 square feet of function space, with 30,545 square feet in the Grand Ballroom with a 10,000-square-foot foyer. A separate group registration center and meeting concierges are available.

>>BEST CONVENTION/EXHIBIT CENTER

Located on Lake Michigan, MCCORMICK PLACE is North America’s largest convention facility. Minutes from downtown Chicago, this venue attracts almost three million visitors each year for tradeshows, conventions, corporate meetings or special functions. Three state-of-the-art facilities provide a total of 2.2 million square feet of exhibit space, with 1.6 million square feet on one level.

Experienced staff partners with planners for all types of meetings. Many dining choices and full-service catering are available as well as full business services, coat checks, first aid areas, equipment for visitors with disabilities, gift shops and visitor information centers. The center is served by public transportation and cabs and offers shuttle bus options to tradeshows.

>>MOST UNIQUE VENUE

Back again for an encore award is ROCKIT BAR & GRILL, hot spot in River North and the creation of long-time partners Billy Dec and Brad Young, whose previous successes include Chicago establishments such as Solo, Circus, Skylight and Le Passage.

Sales director Amy Christiansen applauds their “huge space that can accommodate from 20 to more than 500 people. We offer an amazing upscale menu and, at the same time, you can be very comfortable and have burgers and chicken sandwiches. You can dress casually or not and use the four pool tables and seven plasma screen TVs for corporate presentations. The entire venue can be bought out for events. And, we have a really great staff!”

The stylish atmosphere blends modern and natural elements-exposed beams, brick and a 75-foot skylight, reminiscent of a warehouse. How about antler chandeliers, flowing metal sculptures from local artists and cocktail tables made of tree stumps?

>>BEST TEAM-BUILDING FACILITY/ORGANIZER

Another perennial favorite resurfaces. WINDY CITY FIELDHOUSE was founded to meet the city’s need for a multipurpose sports facility to provide space for basketball, volleyball, soccer and court-based sports, leagues, programs and celebrations.

“We’re the Midwest’s largest team-building facility,” says owner Bob Beaubien. “We understand our clients’ needs and find out how to customize for them. Our sales reps get on the phone with customers and inevitably we take them in a direction they may not have thought about at first. We say, ‘what do you want to get out of this?’ and we may suggest anything from deep skills team building to just plain old fun-team building can be fun!”

WCF has served more than 2,000 corporate clients with events that take place at different private locations throughout the area or at its 55,000-square-foot venue minutes from the Loop.

>>BEST CONFERENCE CENTER + MEETING VENUE

UNIVERSITY CENTER CONFERENCE CHICAGO is located downtown at Congress Parkway and State Street. According to sales manager Mark Calderone, “With state-of-the-art conference facilities, on-premise catering, high-tech audio-visual equipment, unmatched services and overnight summer accommodations, University Center Conference Chicago is the perfect combination of downtown location, abundant amenities and excellent affordability.”

The facility accommodates board meetings, seminars, workshops, training sessions and retreats. Meeting rooms, all on one level, range from 415 to 2,375 square feet and accommodate various configurations. Amenities also include computer data projection and videoconferencing. Business services encompass high-speed Internet, whiteboards, flipcharts and copy and fax service.

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