It’s time for the madness that is March — the bracket-busting Cinderella teams, exciting wins and teammates who keep the ball moving. Colorado Meetings + Events experiences its own madness with the tallying of the ninth annual Best of Colorado awards. Just like in basketball, there are first-time winners, MVPs and many team players.

CINDERELLAS

The newbies on our list aren’t underdogs, they’re hard workers who rose to the top or placed in a new category. This is the first year Best Hotel or Resort with Meeting/Event Space has been split into four categories based on room size and geographic location. The 336-room The Curtis - a DoubleTree by Hilton came out on top for hotels with more than 200 rooms in Denver Metro. Mansfield Oil Marketing Specialist Michelle DeBrocke says, “My vote goes to The Curtis because of their customer service.” She adds, “I love the location! It’s a Hilton property but feels like a boutique location.”

JW Marriott Denver Cherry Creek claimed the title of Best Hotel or Resort with Meeting/Event Space in Denver Metro (Less than 200 Guest Rooms). The 196-room property recently spent $1 million adding Fireside, which features two walls of glass doors that open to a 2,400 square-foot outdoor patio complete with two fire pits, lounge seating, festoon lights and LED chandeliers with multiple color enhancements. Perfect for up to 250 people, the space can be heated or air conditioned.

Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa is making its first appearance as winner of Best Hotel or Resort with Meeting/Event Space Outside Denver Metro (Less than 200 Guest Rooms). Ashley Sodaro, program manager for executive education for Daniels College of Business (University of Denver), says, “It is hard to feel like you are in a log cabin in the woods and a five-star hotel all at once, but that is how you feel at Devil’s Thumb. The location, views, amenities, accommodating staff, delicious meals, wonderful service and overall experience make it special.”


Devil's Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa

Located near Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre in the Denver Tech Center, Mangia Bevi Café might be a rookie on the winner’s list, but it’s an offshoot of the oft-lauded Epicurean Group. The 2015 Best Restaurant/Bar with Private Dining Space offers private space in its Venetian Room, a buyout of the café for business meetings or cocktail hour, and a patio.

Peter Udall, executive officer for The Navigators, voted for Best Caterer Outside Denver Metro champion Garden of the Gods Gourmet Catering (formerly Pinery Gourmet Catering). “I work at The Navigators, which has the Glen Eyrie Conference Center, and we partner with Pinery to use their facility when some of our contracted groups need venues. The Pinery venue is high-end and well laid out,” Udall says. “Views of the city are spectacular and its accessibility from downtown is great.”

Stacie Cisco, rentals and events coordinator for Lone Tree Arts Center, has used Relish Catering & Event —leading the bracket for Best Caterer in Denver Metro—as her primary for city soirées. Cisco says she appreciates their on-site staff and the chef’s ability to compromise. She adds, “I had one event where the artist requested no salt or pepper in the soup. A lot of chefs won’t compromise, but Relish understands that our artists are everything, and they go out of their way to make us look good.”

Although they are topping Best Meeting/Event Planning Company for the first time, Rocky Mountain Event Consultants is widely known for managing two major associations: Meeting Professionals International Rocky Mountain Chapter, with more than 450 members, and Meetings Industry Council of Colorado, with 13 associations in the region.

After spending $54 million remodeling, Denver Union Station wins Best Renovation Project at a Hotel or Event Venue. The iconic 120-year-old landmark is a perfect blending of old and new—it’s retained its Beaux-Arts style but added modern touches. The Great Hall can be cordoned off to accommodate groups of 10 to 750. Buyouts of the Cooper Lounge and Terminal Bar are available, as well as cozy meeting space in the exposed brick basement. On-site are The Crawford Hotel and 13 watering holes, eateries and retailers.


Denver Union Station

MVPS

COM+E sees its fair share of front-runners with plenty of fans. For example, All Digital Photo & Video has won six years in a row in the Best Photographer/Videographer bracket. Owner Cal Cheney says, “This was our best year ever in terms of volume and profit. Companies and individuals are valuing professional photography and videography and are willing to pay for it because they want it to represent the event well on social media”

Perennial winner The Broadmoor makes its appearance atop Best Hotel or Resort with Meeting/Event Space Outside Denver Metro (More than 200 Guest Rooms). Mark Paquette, owner and lead planner of Mark Christopher Weddings, judges an annual event at The Broadmoor. He says, “The food is always great and the experience is always memorable. The level of service provided by the staff is exceptional. They anticipate needs, and there is always someone available to assist.” This year, The Broadmoor will introduce its new fly-fishing camp along the Tarryall River with more than 5 miles of private waters, a restored lodge and seven historic miners’ cabins.


The Broadmoor

Melissa Mazany, event sales coordinator for Service Systems Associates, recently staged a small meeting at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, leader for Best Attraction Outside Denver Metro. She says, “The space was so open, and we loved having windows all around the room.” Feeding the giraffes was an especially memorable activity. “Our attendees raved about this experience and shared pictures for days after the meeting. It was a great way to break up the meeting and have a teambuilding experience.”

Speaking of menageries, the Denver Zoo won Best Attraction in Denver Metro for a sixth straight year. Suzanne Forgacs, document resource coordinator at Stonebridge Companies, says she has the zoo on her wish list since colleagues have raved about the venue. “The zoo has a unique rugged atmosphere,” she says. The Denver Zoo also is a firsttime recipient of the fairly new Best Outdoor Meeting/Event Venue category.

DesignWorks has received Best Event Décor/Florist recognition five out of the last six years. Renee Letterman, executive assistant to the president/CEO at Lockton, depended on DesignWorks for an event last September. She enjoyed working with the company because of its great service, genuine caring attitude and creativity. Letterman says, “They differ from their competitors with their quick decision making, finding solutions to any issues that might take place and can-do attitude. I felt like my event was the most important activity they were working with that night.”

Event Rents has triumphed all nine years for Best Rental Service. Christina DeGrant, director of events for the Space Foundation, says, “We had a high-level executive dinner and were short three dessert plates. The delivery person drove all the way back to Denver from Colorado Springs to get the plates and brought them back in time. I’m sure we could have managed, but he said, ‘No, that is what you ordered and that is what you should receive.’”

VISIT DENVER, winner of Best Destination Marketing Organization in Town/Area More than 25,000 in Population, also has a nine-year run and experienced a bracketbusting 2014. Hotels set records for occupancy, and hotel tax revenues were a whopping $51.3 million. VISIT DENVER also has gained the national spotlight, hosting the American Academy of Dermatology, Risk Insurance Management Society and National Education Association. According to a Watkins Research Group survey, VISIT DENVER is considered the best in the country to work with.

TEAM PLAYERS

Some organizations flourish by putting the team before individual success. One such example is AXS Group, which won in two categories, Best Destination Management Company and Best Entertainment Agency. A merger between superstars The Arrangers and Starkey Productions means AXS is now a onestop shop. Danielle Porter, events coordinator for Denver Center for the Performing Arts, appreciates the group’s timeliness, communication skills and attention to detail. “I think AXS’ main strength is creativity,” she says. “They are always bringing new and innovative ideas to the table.” Co-worker Dawn Williams, director events services, adds, “AXS Group is also the preferred entertainment provider of the DCPA for all of the events we host—about 224 a year! Their people truly care.”

Some of the teams have been around for a long time, like the 122-year-old The Brown Palace Hotel and Spa, leader for Best Historic Venue. John Adams, general manager of Colorado Convention Center, voted for The Brown Palace because of its historical value and ambiance. He says, “There is no other place like it in the lodging community, it’s truly one of a kind.”

The title of Best Meeting/Event Venue in Denver Metro (Not a Hotel) goes to Colorado Convention Center. Rich Carollo, director of sales and marketing at CCC, says this has been the busiest year on record. The team continues to improve the events experience by turning their business center into a UPS store, enhancing the greeter program, adding more charging outlets and creating conversation pits.


Colorado Mountain Express

Ned Archibald, executive pastry chef at Keystone Resort, says his conference clients use Best Transportation winner Colorado Mountain Express throughout the year, and the feedback is always outstanding. “If necessary and time in their schedule permits, they will make special stops,” he says. “They have a proven track record of excellence.” Phil Gutt, president of Association Managers, Inc., echoes Archibald’s sentiments: “They differ from their competitors because of their size, which translates to flexibility and ability to handle the largest demands.”

GoBreck gets the win for Best Destination Marketing Organization in a Town/Area Less than 25,000 in Population. Breckenridge continues to draw meetings and events because it continually upgrades experiences. The Lodge at Breckenridge just completed a $2.5 million renovation that includes a new upscale eatery: Traverse Restaurant & Bar. The Breckenridge Arts District has added four refurbished historic structures and three new buildings to its campus—all unique venues.

The trophy for Best Audio-Visual/Visual Presentation Provider goes to Image Audiovisuals. Nancy Wright, technical program manager for the Geological Society of America, says, “They look out for our company and provide the best service I could imagine. They do not use the word ‘no’ when asked for something new. They make sure all equipment is properly working throughout the entire meeting, and they also stage themselves close to each breakout room in order to quickly fix any issue that may arise.”

Keystone Resort gets the nod for Best Meeting/Event Venue Outside Denver Metro (Not a Hotel). The resort will introduce a new community impact team-building event this year: Trees, Trails & Trash. Groups can choose river and forest clean-up, community gardening projects, reforestation, planting flowers and trees, building and maintaining recreational trails, or developing playgrounds or parks projects. During another program, Bicycles Built for Need, attendees work with community leaders constructing cycles, competing in zany races and then donating the bikes to a local youth group.

Join us in doing “the wave” not just for the winners and runners up, but all the outstanding business that were nominated and work diligently to make gatherings in Colorado so memorable!

This Kate Spade-inspired vignette makes a colorful splash at ILEA and NACE Designer Showcase.

 

Meeting and incentive trip planners: Get ready to be surprised at the diverse range of lodging options available in Colorado from glamping tents, yurts and teepees to overnight accommodations in a jail, train station, castle and replica fort.

The 200-acre, family-owned Arapaho Valley Ranch has cabins, lodge rooms, glamping tents outfitted with southwestern flair, and 20-foot teepees equipped with queensized beds.

 

When planning a gathering, make sure to check a destination’s calendar of events for festivals, concerts and noteworthy exhibitions. Leslie Heins and Lisa Cook, owners and event architects of Denver-based Affair with Flair, demonstrated how this can be done with a social occasion, which easily could have been a corporate event in conjunction with the Denver Art Museum’s recent blockbuster “Dior: From Paris to the World” that wrapped up in March 2019.