It is business NOT as usual at these Tampa Bay Area meeting spaces

What compels employees to invest more energy or ingenuity on the job? 

A meeting in the most decked out hotel ballroom aglow from projected PowerPoint slides might not be the key to cultivating greater enthusiasm and camaraderie, but a change of scenery could help.

Let’s get physical

Not many corporate events afford the opportunity to jump off a 60-foot-tall start tower to zipline 400 to 650 feet across the Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve. At Empower Adventures Tampa Bay, visitors soar along a zip line course offering five lines of various lengths and spanning over 20 acres that sit upon the nearly 400-acre county preserve managed through the City of Oldsmar in Pinellas County. Guests also can traverse a 200-foot suspension bridge and aerial obstacle course.

“Having a positive and uplifting experience in common can prove powerful not only in the relationship side, but in productivity,” says Joe DeRing, U.S. Army Veteran and President of Empower Adventures. “You’re going to create lines of communication and cross-functionally, people may be able to understand each other better.”

Tech Data is one of many high-profile companies in the area to have held corporate team-building events there.

“We tested our courage, our skill and our determination to get past our fear,” says Rob Webster, SMB Sales Director for Tech Data, in a video testimonial. “It was a great day and way to spend time and team-build and really get to know your team.”

Since opening in December 2016, Bryan Glazer Family Jewish Community Center has established its place as business and community partner to its West Tampa and South Tampa neighbors. Following renovation of the historic Fort Homer Hesterly Armory, the Community Center introduced 50,000 square feet of health, fitness and wellness-focused activities under one roof. Andrea Banovic, Sales Manager for the venue, says half the battle in growing the nonprofit’s identity as a unique meeting space stems from confusion about what the Community Center is.

“Some businesses can’t figure out if we’re a gym or a venue,’’ Banovic says. The beauty is, we’re a bit of both.”

Banovic says companies will find a versatility different than what traditional venues offer. A sampling of one or more of its health and wellness amenities can be paired up with meeting time in the center’s traditional ballroom or meeting room to liven up the experience.

“If they want to integrate the gym or another onsite wellness activity, they can coordinate with an onsite fitness professional and add a layer of health and wellness to their meeting.”

Lessons in teamwork

Connecting minds to tackle a common goal can offer an ideal setting for bonding. Groups of all ages have found great fun embarking on historical scavenger hunts at the Tampa Bay History Center. Nancy Dalence, Curator of Education, says the museum’s nearness to the hub of convention activity in downtown Tampa has been helpful in attracting meeting planners from across the country. Having one of the best known Tampa Bay restaurants onsite doesn’t hurt either. 

“Combining the ability to have drinks, a meal or appetizers at the Columbia with whatever a company might want from the museum side of the house makes for great group options,” she says.

Groups can meet and take a guided tour together, as one company recently did, planning a lunch at the Columbia followed by a 1-hour customized tour of the new Treasure Seekers galleries. Others may want to infuse fun and competition and divide into teams for adult scavenger hunts through the galleries.

“Being in a museum is a social experience,” Dalence says. “We forget that because it can seem quiet and serious, but people like going with other people to discover things together.”

Vena Martinez is a booking specialist for The Great Escape Room Tampa in downtown Tampa and watches groups walk in and transform into competitive sleuths. The venue offers six escape rooms with four different themes. In total, 85 participants can take part in escape room activities at any one time. One of its popular theme rooms is Sherlock’s Library which hosts up to 12 people with a second library available for 18 more guests.

“Our rooms are fun, and they challenge people to think and work together in ways that they normally wouldn’t,” Martinez says.

A diverse mix of clientele from local hospitals and universities to large employers have explored the escape rooms. Martinez says escape rooms offer a secondary form of escape to participants.

“It helps break the monotony that some companies may be used to with more ‘traditional’ team-building events.”

Before he became Event Coordinator of Group Sales, Justice Gennari was a past customer at GameTime Tampa at Centro Ybor. Now, he works with prospective corporate clients to help address their meeting needs and objectives.

“They want to do something different,” he says. “They want to do something fun, edgy and new, and that’s why they come to GameTime.”

GameTime offers guests access to a full restaurant, bar, and mega arcade. Past corporate clients have done everything from a buyout to host an all-employee and all-family social event in the 24,000-square-foot facility to a customized corporate event blending a more traditional sit-down meeting followed by food, drink, and games afterward. Venue staff members also lead team-building activities across various games including Skee-Ball, sonic baseball, Daytona 500 race car driving, and others.

“You work with people day in and day out, and to share that moment with each other and be a kid again is what seals the deal,” Gennari says.

Creating memories

A company may be looking to inspire a creative team or rekindle a playful, childlike wonder with awe-inspiring surroundings. One location that has visitors talking is Red Door No. 5, a refurbished 1925 firehouse nestled in Tampa Heights. Dominique Martinez purchased the building from the city in 2007 and spent the next eight years renovating it and being sensitive to historic preservation, including its double swing carriage doors. Since opening those doors three years ago, individuals and companies of all sizes and industries have hosted a variety of events including weddings, holiday parties, corporate anniversaries, fundraisers and festivals. 

Joe C. Collier, President and CEO of Mainsail Lodging & Development, says his team found the venue worked well for his company’s holiday event that included a presentation portion.

“The floor plan affords a nice flow and provides interesting spaces that encourage interaction,” he says. Feedback from clientele has been consistently positive, says Martinez. “The one thing clients tell me is even though the event took place a year ago, people are still talking about your building. It’s like walking into a museum. People remember their event.”

As Guest Services Manager at Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, Pauline Snyder sees a growing demand to create events that are fun and different.

“Our core business is the ice rink. As soon as people tour the building, you see them starting to envision all they can do here,” Snyder says.

The hockey complex features an Olympic-size rink which recently served as a training home to visiting Winter Olympics athletes, as well as three NHL rinks, which multiple groups can use simultaneously. Corporate clients can create events that combine use of the venue’s conference room space with a fun ice activity to follow, such as team curling, ice skating or a skating lesson.

Karen Frasier, President of the Rotary Club of New Tampa, held their Taste of New Tampa event with the North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce for a second year at Center Ice.

“If you’re looking for something where you want good food and a good time, they have everything the traditional large ballroom venue has,” Frasier says.

Hosting a corporate event in an unusual or unexpected locale is one strategy to inspire team spirit and imagination. Proof of an event’s success lies in what comes after the shared experience.

“It will become a memory, an anchor point for the group to come together and reminisce about and look back on fondly for weeks, months and in a lot of cases, years to come,” says DeRing.

Read more articles by Chris Kuhn.

Chris Kuhn is a freelance writer, editor and blogger who resides in the northern ‘burbs of Tampa with her husband and a rambunctious Shih Tzu. She is a frequent contributor to area print and online publications and previously served as editor for a local women’s publication. A graduate of Florida State University, Chris has been published nationally and written two books, her most recent, an anthology celebrating public art as a central focal point for storytelling across various Florida communities, including Tampa. When she is not writing, Chris loves checking out art, movies and museums, and discovering new Thai restaurants.
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