Features

Meetings & events: the Minnesota all-stars

The state's M&E insiders vote on the best their industry has to offer

By Julie Kendrick

If you conduct business in Minnesota, you probably also attend a good number of events, expos, and conferences in the state. Your company might even host a few of its own. Keeping that in mind, we asked the editors of Minnesota Meetings + Events magazine (office mates of ours) about their latest Best of Awards. Recognizing excellence in everything from event venues to entertainment providers to team-building activities, there’s something here for everyone. The winners and finalists were chosen by the magazine’s readers: meetings-and-events insiders based in Minnesota. We figure they know their stuff. July might be a slow month for business-oriented events, but perhaps that makes it an ideal time to take note of who excels at hosting and supporting them. And if for some reason you’re not dangling your toes over a lake on July 15, head to Target Field for another gathering of all-stars — from the ranks of Major League Baseball. As you chug a Surly and cheer a homer, thank Meet Minneapolis, voted Best Convention and Visitors Bureau (Large), for the happy memory.
 
Best meeting/event space (no hotel)
Best hotel with meeting/event space (small)
Best hotel with meeting/event space (large)
Best resort with meeting/event space
Best restaurant with private dining space
Best venue outside of Twin Cities metro area
Best catering company
Best convention and visitors bureau (small)
Best convention and visitors bureau (large)
Best golf venue
Best entertainment
Best team-building
Best transportation
Best boats
Best event decor
Best florist
Best rental service provider
Best audio-visual
Best photography

Best meeting/event space (no hotel)

Aria

Since opening in 2012, Aria has been the go-to location for fun, funky, and artsy events. It’s also hosted several Minnesota Business events, including the Community Impact Awards in February. An eclectic ambiance is a big part of the venue’s popularity, says sales manager Stephanie Guidera. She cites the original brick walls, cavernous ceilings, and crystal chandeliers as part of what gives the space “old-world elegance with new-world chic.”

Runners-up: Lafayette Club // McNamara Alumni Center

Best hotel with meeting/event space (small)

The Saint Paul Hotel

Minnesota’s landmark hotel is conveniently located in the heart of downtown St. Paul, bordering Rice Park and facing the Ordway. Last year, the hotel hosted more than 800 business meetings, conferences and banquets, and welcomed another 200 groups visiting the Twin Cities.

Runners-up: Graves 601 Hotel // Oak Ridge Hotel & Conference Center

Best hotel with meeting/event space (large)

Hilton Minneapolis

Leaders of Minnesota’s meeting-and-events industry consulted on the design of this hotel, which helps explain why it’s won this award seven times. Besides being the state’s largest hotel, it also boasts the biggest ballroom (25,000 square feet). “We’re a meetings-and-events hotel that was designed by meetings-and-events professionals,” says general manager John Luke.

Runners-up: Minneapolis Marriott City Center // Radisson Blu Mall of America

Best resort with meeting/event space

Grand View Lodge

Voters appreciate this resort for its year-round activities, including golf, pontoon excursions, walks on the 2,500 feet of sandy beach, and wintertime dog sledding and ice-fishing tournaments.

Runners-up: Cragun’s // Madden’s on Gull Lake

Best restaurant with private dining space

Seven

In addition to the cuisine and menu variety, voters appreciate the flexibility of this restaurant’s space, which includes private rooms of various sizes. “We’ve gotten a reputation for exceeding people’s expectations for a great event,” says chief manager David Koch. 

Runners-up: The Bachelor Farmer and Bar La Grassa (tie) // Crave

Best venue outside of Twin Cities metro area

Grand View Lodge

Operating on Gull Lake in Nisswa for nearly a century, this venue won the vote of Dick Whitbeck, musical director of the band Synergy, which played there. “It was a great place to perform, and the staff was so helpful and pleasant,” he says. “Synergy plays 80 to 100 events every year, and we’ve performed in just about every venue around the state, but we all really appreciated the wonderfully woodsy, wilderness vibe up there.”
 

Best catering company

Mintáhoe Catering & Events

One of the biggest privately owned catering and event companies in the state, Mintáhoe is noted for its cuisine, event spaces, and customer service. As the operator of some of the most popular venues in Minnesota, the company caters events at such hot spots as A’bulae in St. Paul and Van Dusen Mansion in Minneapolis, as well as more out-of-the-way settings, including Château at Medicine Lake and Saint Croix National. 
 

Best convention and visitors bureau (small)

Visit Brainerd

When Richard Polipnick started his position as executive director for Visit Brainerd, it had 850 likes on Facebook — compared to well over 10,000 now. The organization won in this category last year, too. “We want to be the go-to source for fun information in the area,” says Polipnick. 
 

Best convention and visitors bureau (large)

Meet Minneapolis

Minneapolis can thank this organization for many events that are each bringing thousands of visitors this year. “We’re well known for our large and experienced staff, as well as our strong relationships with the City of Minneapolis, convention center, hotels, restaurants, attractions and service partners,” says Kristen Montag, marketing communications manager. 
 

Best golf venue

Grand View Lodge

With three top-rated courses, this resort offers variety and flexibility for a golf-focused meeting or event. 
 

Best entertainment

G.L. Berg Entertainment, Performing Artists, & Speakers

This company’s roster of entertainers includes everything from salsa bands to dueling guitar acts to speakers such as the owner and CEO himself, Gary Berg. Sheree Bochenek, creative director at Après Party and Tent Rental, is impressed by Berg’s know-how. “We’ve booked him to speak at events, and he’s been very willing to offer his expertise and share his knowledge with colleagues,” she says.
 

Best team-building

metroConnections

metroConnections creates personalized activities themed to each customer’s goals and culture. Combine that with a team-building repertoire that includes game shows, garage wars, and chili cook-offs and it's no surprise who won this category. 
 

Best transportation

metroConnections

Transportation may not be the most glamorous aspect of meetings and events, but it needs to run flawlessly no matter what. Voters clearly enjoy the ride when working with this organization, which recently transported 30,000 people between 90 hotels, a conference center, and sightseeing tours for one client in one day.
 

Best boats

Al & Alma's Supper Club and Charter Cruises

Noted for its attention to detail, this operator has a fleet of luxury yachts that cruise in three seasons. Lake Minnetonka’s largest and most experienced fleet can accommodate a group as large as 400 on cruises as long as three hours. 

Best event decor

metroConnections

The days of décor being nothing more than centerpieces are long over, so event planners rely on metroConnections for its extensive stock of fixtures, wall treatments, furniture, and more. The firm’s designers and production staff also create custom-designed event environments.
 
Runners-up: Festivities // Linen Effects

Best florist

Festivities

This Medina-based florist is noted for its consistently full blooms and uniformity from every angle. “Clients actually get more bloom for their dollar with us,” says owner Jennifer Braun. “[Our] designers guide clients to flower selections that maximize their budget to truly get the look they want.”
 

Best rental service provider

Linen effects

In business for 24 years, this locally owned and managed company specializes in high-end items to adorn elegant tables. From its beginnings as a supplier of linens, the company now offers everything from a set of custom-made chandeliers to 25 different kinds of candelabras. “We enjoy a critical mass of very loyal event planners in town who really appreciate our service and selection,” says general manager Kurt Silton.
 

Best audio-visual

AV For You

“We’re the Goldilocks audio-visual company — not too small, not too big,” says Josh Reitan, owner of AV for You. His firm, which has won this category for four years running, specializes in 50- to 1,000-person shows, fundraisers, and annual benefits. “We have incredibly low staff turnover, and many customers who have been with us for years,” he says. “We gain a great understanding of what our customers need.”
 
Runners-up: AVEX // metroConnections

Best photography

Lauren B Photography

Lauren Falk, owner of Lauren B Photography, focuses on “telling a story, preserving a moment, and creating art.” That approach earned her recognition by appreciative voters. “I use a variety of styles to bring all the beauty and potential into the images,” says Falk. “And I help clients look both amazing in a totally relaxed, fun setting.”