There's only one Boulder, and being one-of-a-kind stirs some pretty deep emotions.
Nanci Reich, director of corporate operations for the Washington, D.C.-based Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), plans several meetings in Boulder every year. “It’s a great town,” says Reich. “It’s a foodie town. It’s very outdoorsy. If I could move there, I would do it in a heartbeat. I adore it.”
Boulder also hooks newcomers. Susanna Sheehan, organization development manager for California-based Knighted Ventures, planned a three-day event in Boulder in September 2018. “We were looking for someplace that wasn’t so Vegas-y and crazy,” she explains. Boulder fit the bill, with its emphasis on good food and outdoor activities.
Knighted’s group of 13 people from both coasts stayed and met at Basecamp Boulder, went rock climbing with Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides, and got a bird’s-eye view of the area with Fair Winds Hot Air Balloon Flights. Favorite restaurants included Wild Standard and Snarfburger.
“We were all very impressed,” says Sheehan. “We want to figure out how to move to Boulder.”
She credits the team at Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau for helping plan a successful gathering. “I’m an ideas person, not a logistics person,” she explains.
“If they come to Boulder, they’re going to get that full Boulder experience,” says Director of Group Sales Clay Perry. That means the great outdoors, great food, breweries, and everything else. He adds, “It’s great to come collaborate and think outside the box.”
Variety of Venues
Venues range from historic lodgings and modern hotels to dedicated events spaces. “You’ve got luxury, you’ve got history, you’ve got modern and new,” says Perry.
On the luxurious side, St Julien Hotel & Spa is hard to top. Nestled between the foothills and the pedestrian Pearl Street Mall downtown, the property features 9,708 square feet of indoor event space with the largest accommodating as many 400 people theater-style.
Then there’s the history. Opened in 1909, Hotel Boulderado can accommodate groups up to 250 in its 10,000 feet of event space. Michele Rittgers, director of sales and marketing, calls it “an icon in the heart of downtown Boulder.”
Another historic gem, Colorado Chautauqua was established at the base of Boulder’s iconic flatirons in 1898. Today it offers year-round lodging on-site and a number of event spaces, including the Chautauqua Community House with a maximum capacity of 125.
For modern and new, look no further than the dual-branded Hiltons on Canyon, comprised of Embassy Suites by Hilton Boulder and Hilton Garden Inn Boulder, featuring a total of 376 guest rooms. Opened in 2017, Hiltons on Canyon has the largest ballroom in the city (6,500 square feet) as well as breakout rooms and a year-round pool deck.
Angela Blackstock, dual director of sales and marketing, says the property can cover the pool with Plexiglas panels to expand the deck’s capacity from 75 to 130. After testing the panels in spring 2018, Blackstock sees it as something special for a creative event. “It has to be the right client, but we’re excited to do it again,” she says.
Quality over Quantity
Merix Gustin, owner and director of event operations for Plan Ahead Events Boulder and a 36-year Boulder resident, suggests that wellness is a big selling point for prospective events. “I think Boulder is a perfect place to do this,” Gustin says. “You can get up early and go on a hike before you have to go to a meeting. … Every season of the year, we have a reason you want to be here and be outside.”
One thing Boulder doesn’t have is scale. “Larger groups do not have much luck here,” she says. Venues like the Omni Interlocken Hotel and The Westin Westminster offer more elbow room a few miles down U.S. 36 and groups meeting there can still build the Boulder experience into their itineraries.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, Gustin says, as Boulder is all about quality over quantity, especially when it comes to the culinary culture. “The food and beverage that’s available here is outstanding. There are so many excellent chefs and so much local creativity.”
Beyond the hotels, University of Colorado Boulder campus offers a number of spaces, including the city’s largest ballroom: the Glenn Miller Ballroom with a capacity of 440 for banquets and 1,000 for lectures.
Gustin also highlights Dairy Center for the Arts as a great event venue with a central location. The lobby is ideal for social events with a capacity of 220, and Gordon Gamm Theater can hold 250.
Alyson Taylor, executive administrator with Minneapolis-based health care technology provider Revel Health, planned a two-night planning session for 11 people in December 2018. Based at The Boulder Bradley Inn, the group took a break from meetings for a guided hike on the Flatiron Mountains with Aspire Tours.
“It’s a small town, it’s easy to get to, and it’s different from what we have in Minnesota,” says Taylor. It was Revel’s first foray outside Minnesota for its annual year-end meeting, and she received rave reviews. “Everybody loved it.”
All things considered, Boulder provides an antidote to big convention destinations. Instead of buffets, organic food is on the table. Instead of nightclubs and casinos, it’s craft breweries and mountain trails. There is also so much to do.
“Some events can leave attendees saying, ‘That was more work than play,’” Rittgers says. “Boulder’s the perfect place where you can combine the two.”
UNIQUE VENUES: ONLY IN BOULDER
Boulder offers a number of small- and medium-sized meeting venues that are decidedly different.
Rembrandt Yard is a two-level modern art gallery that can accommodate 175 theater-style or 500 for a reception. Groups can rent one or two levels and choose from three tiers of service, from space only to turnkey that includes furnishings and A/V equipment. “We see a little bit of everything, from company meetings to product launches to team-building, all the way to big conferences,” says General Manager Molly Hensley.
A renovated church now touted as “possibly the greenest music and media center in Colorado” is now known as eTown Hall, home to a radio show of a similar name and a recording studio. It’s available as a rental for groups of up to 234 in the theater, while a café and the recording studio offer more intimate settings.
New in 2018 and located up Boulder Canyon, Boulder Adventure Lodge accommodates 20 in a meeting room that opens up to a larger space that holds about 50. “It’s a great, beautiful space and it’s brand new,” says owner Asa Firestone. Early adopters are “companies coming up for brainstorm workshops and off-site retreats.”
The second largest brewery in Boulder County, Avery Brewing Company, can accommodate about 50 seated or 150 for receptions in its event mezzanine over the production floor. “It really gives people the experience of being in a real Colorado brewery,” says Amy Newell-Large, Avery’s hospitality manager. The 10 taps of Avery’s award-winning beers located behind the bar are a big perk.
The thoroughly hip Rayback Collective offers 12,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space and plenty of parking for food trucks. The plumbing warehouse on the north end of Boulder was reinvented as an event venue in 2016. “They’ve turned it into a huge open room that is really flexible,” says Merix Gustin, owner and director of event operations for Plan Ahead Events Boulder. “You can create whatever you want in that space.”