Special Focus-Memorable Events-August 2011

Special Focus-Memorable Events-August 2011

Twin Cities–area meeting planners create stunning events that serve corporate and institutional clients.

Throughout the year, Twin Cities meeting planners orchestrate events that stand out with unique themes, locations, entertainment, or decor. And when a meeting is exceptional, its message becomes all the more effective and meaningful for guests. These three gatherings went above and beyond, earning nominations for Star Awards from the Minneapolis–St. Paul chapter of the International Special Events Society. 

Friends of Sacred Heart Hospital
The Hope Gala

Theme: “An Evening to Remember” in a Moroccan Oasis
Outcome: A memorable event that raised money for the Friends of the Sacred Heart Hospital 
Venue: Heartland Aviation, a 22,500-square-foot airplane hangar in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin
Attendees: 300 doctors, foundation members, and patrons
Event planners: Teddi Sellick and Scott DeLage, EventLab
Rental companies: Ultimate Events, The Coffee Grounds, Obsessions Chocolates
Lighting/audio-visual: Ken’s Lighting
Catering: Chef Randy Lathrop and Rick Beckler of Sacred Heart Hospital
Entertainment: Belladiva

Transforming a 22,500-square-foot working airplane hangar into a Moroccan oasis was no small task. The facility, located 90 minutes from the Twin Cities, had no kitchen amenities or party essentials such as tables, chairs, cutlery, and plates. But there was plenty of dirt and detritus common to cleaning, fixing, and storing planes. 

But Friends of Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire envisioned a theme that would truly impress attendees at The Hope Gala fundraiser, and Minneapolis-based EventLab rose to the challenge. The client wanted an event in an unexpected location to wow guests with breathtaking ambiance. In the process, the gala would raise awareness about the foundation, encourage attendees to support the hospital’s robotic surgery program, and treat guests to an unforgettable evening. 

“It was a fun concept,” says Teddi Sellick, project manager at Eden Prairie–based EventLab, which has designed the foundation’s gala for three years running and is already working on next year’s event. “People really had a lot of fun, and it was very successful.” 

EventLab poured all of its creative energy into staging the Moroccan-inspired “Evening to Remember.” To make the large hangar an intimate space with the look and feel of a North African tent, the team installed giant fabric panels in warm jewel tones. The swags hung across the 30-foot ceilings and down to the floor, complemented by custom valances and warm-toned linens. Designers also created unique seating by incorporating cozy cabanas with dining tables or lounge pods with soft leather benches and cocktail tables.  

Vibrant flowers in pink, orange, and purple, palm trees, and straw fronds paired with soft pink lighting set the scene: an oasis at sunset. Waiters wore fezzes and wide scarves for belts, and the menu included Moroccan specialties such as tagine—a slow-cooked stew—and grilled swordfish with a Moroccan-spice rub. 

EventLab faced numerous challenges, including limited access to the hangar during planning, and the distance between the Twin Cities and the hangar in Chippewa Falls. EventLab built boxes to cover numerous floor grates used for keeping the hangar clean, and covered the entire space with rugs and carpets to match the decor. The team even needed to work around an aircraft during set-up because its last-minute inspection kept it in the hangar until four hours before the gala. 

In addition to music by the band Belladiva, guests were entertained by two games that kept them socializing. The Champagne Lotterie invited guests to buy a Champagne glass, which allowed them to drink bubbly all evening. It also entered them in a drawing for a $2,500 dinner party and decor for their home. Guests also played Porter Picks, a ring toss game where they could win a bottle of wine. Sacred Heart neurosurgeon and wine buff Phillip Porter selected the vintages and then spoke to winners about the bottle they won. “It was a good conversation piece between the guests and the doctor,” Sellick says. “They really loved meeting one-on-one with one of the hospital’s top surgeons.”

The standout theme and execution helped set the stage for a successful fundraising event, she adds, generating glowing reviews like never before.


Food Stations

•  Vegetable crudités and Moroccan yogurt with preserved-lemon dip

•  Moroccan-roasted salmon with fruit salsa

•  Prosciutto-wrapped figs 

•  Tagine ragou

•  Pita and flatbreads

•  Carved leg of lamb

Pushcart-Served Food

•  Spiced Moroccan-style shrimp

•  Lamb meatballs

•  Moroccan chicken with olives

•  Beef kebabs


•  Persian love cake

•  Ma joum (honey nut candy)

•  Sefrou apricot biscotti

Concordia University
All-Class Reunion 


Theme: “Memories: Share Old, Make New”
Outcome: Reuniting alumni from the 1940s to the present to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the school’s alumni association Venue: Circus Juventas, St. Paul
Attendees: 250 Concordia alumni 
Event planner: Katie Benson
Rental Companies: A-Z Rental 
Catering: Mintáhoe Catering & Events
Florist: The Late Bloomer

Concordia University in St. Paul had a lot to celebrate last October: the 50th anniversary of its alumni association, homecoming weekend, and an all-class reunion. The school wanted a lighthearted event that would foster mingling, while providing food, drink, and entertainment for attendees of all ages. 

The university selected Circus Juventas, a circus school in St. Paul just three miles from campus, as the venue; it offers both entertainment and a large, impressive event space under its big top. The school’s Cirque du Soleil–style performances engaged the audience while giving them something to discuss. It also accommodated Concordia’s desire for an informal environment.

The all-class reunion was a first for Concordia, bringing together graduates from the 1940s to the present. Planning began nearly two years before the October weekend to make sure the reunion tied in seamlessly with all of the other homecoming events. Planners also needed to attract as many alumni as possible, says Katie Benson, Concordia’s senior event planner. 

“Because it was homecoming, resources for help were limited and staff was so stretched by everything that was going on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday,” Benson says. “It all came together, though. When you walked into the room, there was definitely a wow factor because of the venue and lights and entertainment. It was gorgeous.”

Two major obstacles arose right before the party. Circus Juventas had a performers practice scheduled until 2:30 p.m. the day of the reunion, giving Benson and two other Concordia staff only three and a half hours to set up. The planners also found out just three days before the event that a wedding was scheduled in the adjacent park, which shares a parking lot with the circus. Concordia scrambled to hire staff to direct traffic to available parking places. 

During the reunion, guests could watch circus performers flying high on trapezes and doing other tricks. Later they listened to live big band music. Benson and her team made the food another interactive element of the event. Instead of a sit-down dinner, they worked with Mintáhoe Catering & Events of Minneapolis to create engaging food stations. From a make-your-own salad shaker station to a mashed potato bar, attendees could enjoy dishes to suit their tastes. 

Because it was homecoming, planners used fall colors for the linens and decorated the cocktail tables with 18 unique centerpieces. The playful designs included rust-toned and golden Mokara orchids intermingled with mushrooms and Brussels sprouts to make the centerpieces conversation starters. 

Some of the facility’s equipment, including large props and mats, posed a design challenge for planners. They kept decorations to a minimum to avoid competing with the space’s visual character. Guests wore nametags with different colors for each decade, which helped them locate classmates from their time at Concordia. 

Alumni reportedly enjoyed themselves at the reunion. “It was very successful,” Benson says. “They liked the fact that they could go and not be seated at a dinner the entire evening. They had the opportunity to mingle, and they liked that we intermixed entertainment with having the food open the entire time.”


Passed Hors D’oeuvres

•  Roquefort grapes—green grapes rolled in bleu cheese and crushed pistachios

•  Beef tenderloin on sourdough with horseradish cream

Food Stations

•  Margarita salad shaker with a variety of lettuces, toppings, and dressings

•  Skewers on the rocks: grilled beef with a red miso glaze, rosemary ranch chicken, balsamic-marinated portobello mushroom skewers with garlic aioli

•  Smashed Tini: a make-your-own mashed potato bar, including warm toppings such as “chicken pot pie” and braised pork carnitas 

Dessert Station

•  Assorted petit sweets, such as dipped fruit, tartlets, cakes, gourmet cookies, and brownie lollipops

Annual Employee Award Summit


Theme: Various themes for more than 20 events
Outcome: Rewarding AT&T employees while rallying staff to meet next year’s sales goals
Venues: Marriott Harbor Beach, Miami; Hyatt Regency Scottsdale at Gainey Ranch
Planning and Rentals: Nancy Jacobs, EDG Productions
Attendees: 2,500 AT&T salespeople
Logistics and Project Management: Maritz Travel Company
Lighting/audio-visual: Visionracks

For Nancy Jacobs, AT&T’s yearly incentive trip is a marathon of event planning. During a six-week period, Jacobs’ company orchestrates five destination events for AT&T employees who win sales competitions. Problem is, she never knows exactly how many people are coming on each of the five trips until days before the events. 

Then there are the logistical challenges, such as this year, planning four unique gatherings in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and one in Scottsdale, Arizona. And even though the Florida events were staged at the same hotel, the facility couldn’t accommodate on-site storage. So the planners had to load-in and load-out necessities for each separate group. 

“Our role is to create an atmosphere that welcomed the divisions in a fun, colorful atmosphere. It was our goal to make sure the evening events were bright, fun, exciting, and entertaining,” says Jacobs, president of EDG Productions in Eden Prairie. “We want to make sure each of our guests had fun.”

Generally, each employee awards summit includes a welcome reception, general session, gala dinner, and after party—a total of 20 events to plan.   One of Jacobs’ major challenges is setting the room for the general session, in which guests sit grouped together by region for an employee rally and awards ceremony. Attendees from each of seven regions identified their seats by color-coded spandex bands around each chair, which match their lanyard and corresponding tabletop décor for meals. 

With the number of guests in flux up until the last minute, and the client requesting that there not be extra seating in the room, EDG needed to be nimble. Jacobs and her team tackled this logistical difficulty by keeping a close eye on registration numbers and stocking extra supplies.

“We have to be right on the numbers and have enough seats for all of the colors. It’s very challenging,” says Jacobs, who has been planning AT&T’s incentive trips for eight years.

On the third day, EDG generally preps for the next wave while guests spend time offsite. But this year, AT&T requested an additional event for each of the four gatherings in Florida. EDG chartered a 400-person yacht for a three-hour cruise along the bays and oceanfront near Fort Lauderdale. Jacobs and her team decked out the yacht with furnishings and décor during the two-hour trip from the docks to pick up the guests. The space was transformed into a casino complete with a DJ for music on all four levels of the yacht. 

The evening started with fireworks viewed from the upper deck, where guests could have their pictures taken. In addition to the casino, another level featured a “Taste of Miami,” with buffets that reflected the culinary heritage of the city. Jacobs carried a nautical theme throughout the ship, including snappy blue-and-white-striped linens set off by miniature white lanterns, white roping, and white starfish.

“Guests were so impressed with the yacht,” Jacobs says. “People don’t often get to experience such a big ship. And they loved the sights and the fireworks and the opportunity to hang loose and go out in the city instead of getting dressed with a suit and tie. They liked that and being able to let their hair down.”

By the time EDG’s work on the various events was done, the staff had put on and taken off more than 10,000 chair covers, used more than 2,200 batteries for LED lights, contracted hundreds of temporary staffing hours from agencies in two states, and transported décor in and out of a rental truck for six weeks. EDG and the truck logged 6,000 miles, including the drive from Florida to Arizona. Jacob says: “We’re really happy to come home to Minnesota.”  


Heavy Appetizers

•  Asian-style pot stickers served with diced scallions, hoisin drizzle, and spicy dipping sauce

•  Maryland mini–crab cakes served with Old Bay sauce

•  Greek olives and anchovies bruschetta

•  Coconut chicken served with a mango papaya salsa

•  Sweet and savory baked Brie cups topped with fresh sliced pear spears

•  Roasted garlic-crusted beef tenderloin on crostini with caramelized onion and a balsamic drizzle

•  Roasted red and yellow peppers, fried basil, grilled portobello mushrooms, and jack cheese on a garlic pesto croustade

•  Two-bite gourmet teriyaki cheeseburgers