Offsite staff meetings and events taking place in standard hotel conference spaces become rote for employees and expensive for businesses and government agencies, but more interesting and cost-effective venues are now available at New Jersey’s colleges and universities, which have thrust their off-season, underutilized spaces onto the meeting room rental market. Their conference rooms, ballrooms, theaters and student centers; sweeping campus views; catering services; ample parking; updated and throw-back dorm accommodations; and great metropolitan locations make them viable, fun and less costly alternatives to the standard hotel venue. In addition, many training programs are more conducive to the educational settings provided by colleges and universities, rather than a hotel or conference center.
For the schools, renting thousands of available square footage during school and summer breaks generates income that helps offset the rising cost of tuition, exposes them to potential students and donors, and provides economic stimulus to the regions they serve. In fact, many have established dedicated meeting and event centers with convenient single-point contacts for meeting planners looking to jazz-up the meeting environment and save on costs.
This article looks at the various event spaces available from several colleges and universities around the state.
New Jersey Institute of Technology
The jewel among NJIT’s many meeting venues is its new Wellness and Event Center (WEC), a three-story, 220,000-square-foot programming and event site which opened November 2017. The WEC – designed to promote the health, well-being and academic pursuits of NJIT students – offers several flexible conference and meeting spaces that have become “a destination for community, business and government entities,” states Lorie Brown, senior director of strategic events and conference services for NJIT.
The multipurpose WEC, which replaced a decades-old gymnasium, features an imposing 52-foot exterior glass wall and 3,500-seat indoor arena with retracting seats and a portable stage that creates a convocation hall for trade shows, job fairs and wide-scale presentations. Several smaller, modular spaces throughout the building can be configured quickly to support numerous meeting sizes and needs, along with optional AV/media equipment and technicians (both professional and student), custodial services, public safety personnel and catering.
“Our exclusive, onsite caterer offers budget-friendly menus as well as first-class presentations for galas and other high-profile events at the WEC,” Brown says. “Our for-profit and non-profit rates work with every organization’s budget parameters.”
Also available from NJIT, along with the same optional services, are myriad spaces within its campus center. Most popular among these is a 10,000-square-foot atrium area that accommodates up to 300 people in theater-style row seating and 200 in banquet-style round tables, according to Brown. NJIT also rents the center’s ballroom, which seats up to 700 people theater style and 400 banquet style. Multiple conference rooms range in capacity from 20 to 50. All campus center spaces are complemented by a pre-function gallery room.
NJIT’s 425-seat Kupfrian Hall and newly renovated Central King building, with its unique loft spaces, also are available for business and government gatherings.
“NJIT has hosted a variety of local, national and international meetings, including those for FEMA, EPA and Office of the Governor, which has held many press conferences on our campus,” Brown reports. “We also rent to individuals for various social engagements, including weddings and graduations, etc.”
This fall, Stockton University will open its new ocean-front Atlantic City Gateway Campus, home to a 3,100-square-foot event room and eatery located on the Atlantic City boardwalk, steps from the beach. Through a public-private partnership with Atlantic City Development Corporation, the new Stockton University campus includes a 533-bed, apartment-style residential complex ― also available for rent during non-peak student timeframes.
The university’s main campus, located in Galloway, within the Pinelands National Reserve, offers three performance theaters well-suited for lectures and conferences. The Performing Arts Center seats 535 while two smaller venues, the Campus Center Theatre and Alton Auditorium, each seat 250. Additional event space includes meeting rooms that accommodate from 16 to 80 guests, and an 8,800-square-foot divisible event room, all equipped with computer projection systems.
The Galloway Campus offers a variety of classrooms and lecture halls, all equipped with computer/projection systems with capacities for up to 113 guests. According to Laurie Griscom, assistant dean of students and director of event services and campus center operations, fees for Galloway Campus rentals range from $25 to $60 per person per night for an air-conditioned residence hall room with a shared bathroom and lounge. For a four-person, air-conditioned apartment, fees range from $100 – $240 per night.
Additional off-campus sites also are available for rent. These include Stockton’s Carnegie Center in Atlantic City, a renovated and expanded historic building one block from the beach that features a 75-seat lecture hall, 40-seat multipurpose room, 22-seat state-of-the-art computer laboratory, 15-seat executive conference room, and three seminar rooms with seating capacities of up to 25. All rooms are equipped with high-tech screens, projectors and other presentation tools. In addition, the Carnegie Center has a terrace and spacious lobby.
Meeting planners may also consider Stockton University’s Dente Hall Theater, Kramer Hall and Arts Garage, which houses artist studios, galleries, shops, a café, and flexible workshop/classrooms for more intimate events.
A full range of catering services, from light refreshments to formal white linen service; onsite security staff; and free parking are offered.
“All venues include use of tables, chairs, easels, drapes and podiums available from our inventory. A discounted rate is offered to state agencies and non-profit groups,” Griscom explains. “Fees are assessed on a minimum three-hour block, and all rental groups must first meet insurance requirements.”
Georgian Court University
Located in Lakewood on a 155-acre historic campus and former estate, Georgian Court University (GCU) employs full service meeting planning professionals for its traditional and non-traditional venues, including multipurpose expo spaces; classrooms; meeting rooms; and outdoor spaces ideal for corporate picnics. Its two largest indoor meeting areas are 12,000 square feet and 14,000 square feet and are permanently equipped with multi-media presentation hardware and sound systems, as well as hardwire and WiFi internet access.
GCU has been renting its facilities for more than 30 years, reports Gail Towns, the school’s executive director of marketing and communications. “From August through May, we are open for single-day meetings and events. Summer rentals include multi-day events and access to our residence halls, with full meal service provided,” she reports. “In addition to for-profit groups, many of our guests are non-profit customers, including the Girl Scouts; Parents of Autistic Children; RWJ Barnabas Health; United Methodist Church of NJ; Math Association of NJ; Ocean County Math League; Providence House; NJ Communication Association; and government entities, including Ocean County Police Academy; Ocean County Department of Corrections; and the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education.”
Meeting on a college campus, especially one that’s spacious, park-like and historic, brings an entirely different feel to a meeting or multi-day conference,” Towns says.
GCU Catering provides all food and beverages for the rentals, with the exception of Kosher foods, for which local certified catering agents are used.
The school markets its facilities through online services and listings on tourism and meeting planner sites as well as those for business trade shows. “We work very hard to let companies know that GCU is open for their business,” Towns says. “The university is beautiful, historic, centrally located and has a deeply rooted tradition of providing hospitality to all our visitors.”
Just minutes from Newark International Airport, 180-acre Kean University markets its banquet facilities; meeting rooms; auditoriums and lecture halls; visual and performing arts venues; outdoor spaces; and athletic and recreation facilities for public and private use. Events held include conferences, meetings, galas, receptions, weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and more.
Its William F. Loehning Conference Center can accommodate up to 1,000 people in a single space. As part of Liberty Hall, home of New Jersey’s first elected governor, the unique Carriage House features beautiful gardens in a historic backdrop for weddings and other events.
Kean has an extensive inventory of new and modern facilities, including the newly refurbished Ursino Steakhouse & Tavern in Kean’s STEM Building. Kean also opens its Harwood Arena for a wide variety of events, as well as its 10-person boardrooms, lecture halls for up to 500, theater space for up to 900 and smart classrooms that seat 40.
In total, more than 120 technology-enhanced spaces feature digital projection; wireless microphones; state-of-the-art sound systems; video and teleconferencing capabilities; and touch-screen podium monitors. Residence halls accommodate up to 2,000 guests, and on-site catering is available through Kean’s Gourmet Dining service.
“Kean University has made a significant investment in campus facilities, and it is our privilege to show them off to our many visitors new and old, including alumni, who remember Kean as a quaint teachers college. The transition has been amazing,” reveals Margaret McCorry, Kean’s director of media relations.
The university offers several food and beverage catering options, “which we consider as an extension of our reputation and part of our professional team,” she says.
Participation of a Kean community member is not required to lease facilities, but many groups ask for Kean’s president or relevant faculty member to participate, explains McCorry. “When appropriate, we try to accommodate the request.”
Rowan’s most rented space for events, services and functions is its Eynon Ballroom in the Student Center, because of its vast space, 450 seating capacity, and numerous, adjacent breakout rooms available for corporate and government meetings. Featuring an optional stage, the Eynon Ballroom seats 400 people, and up to 300 with round banquet-style seating. For expo/vendor fairs, up to 42 seminar tables are accommodated. The ballroom space can be divided for smaller events.
Renovated in 2002, the Eynon Ballroom offers a high-end sound and projection system and other features that provide business and government presentations with movie theater quality. Formal dining options are available in the ballroom from Rowan’s catering services department.
Rowan’s Pfleeger Concert Hall, an 800-seat venue, has been in continuous use since it opened in 1972 (it was refurbished in 2014) for artistic events as well as public meetings, conferences and ceremonies. The hall has an adjacent lobby, a 53-rank Wicks pipe organ, 50-foot stage and is fully equipped with a state-of-the-art sound and light systems.
Hollybush – a 1849 Italianate villa, icon to the glory days of glass making in Glassboro and site of the historic 1967 US-Soviet Glassboro Summit – is newly restored and available for meetings and receptions of up to 70 people. The venue features: restored decorative-painted ceilings, plaster friezes and faux-finished woodwork; select pieces of period furniture; displays illustrating the restoration, glass industry and the Glassboro Summit; and a patio and gardens.
“One of our largest outside rentals is to the local chamber of commerce, which holds a State of the County event each year,” notes Joe Cardona, vice president for Rowan University relations.
Cardona reports that the school’s Office of Conference and Event Services was designed to offer one-stop event facilitation services for all available rental venues, including overnight accommodations, and that the school “makes every effort to accommodate the needs of our customers with kindness and courtesy.”
Ramapo College of New Jersey (RCNJ) provides conference rooms, classrooms computer labs and multipurpose and recreational spaces for business meetings and other functions.
The largest space available for rent at RCNJ is its Recreation Center, which accommodates up to 2,000, and Friends Hall, a 3,570-square-foot banquet hall seating up to 350. Also seating 350, the Sharp Theater with balcony was engineered with no obstructions to visibility or sound. All rental spaces include AV equipment, with on-premise catering arranged through RCNJ Dining Services – though renters may also bring in their own refreshments.
“RCNJ offers extensive parking options, non-traditional meeting spaces, overnight accommodations and a scenic environment for more relaxed meetings and events,” declares Cathy Davey, vice president of institutional advancement at RCNJ. “We have hosted events for area businesses and non-profit organizations, regional and state-wide conferences, corporate events, international groups and private events. Many of the college’s partners include corporations such as Stryker, UPS and TD Bank; national organizations including iD-Tech and Adidas Camps; and international organizations such as Move Language Ahead (MLA). Today, we are seeing increased rentals based on established relationships with the college or outreach to the external community and business organizations.”
While college and university meeting environments and dorm accommodations stimulate employee interest and engagement in the standard corporate and government meeting, planners simultaneously can cut costs for their organizations, which, in some cases, can be half of that offered by a high-end hotel.