Cheap Site for a Spring Student Conference
August 27, 2007 9:35 AM   Subscribe

I need a cheap, semi-professional place to hold a week-long conference for college students in late March or early April 2008. We usually hold them over the summer on college campuses and stay in the dorms, but since this one is during the school year, students are living in the dorms, so I can't find a college willing to rent us space. The conference is for about 70 people. Help!

I'm investigating the possibility of holding a week-long conference for 60 college students and 10 staff in spring 2008. I've run several of these conferences during the summer, but I want to figure out whether we can pull off the logistics and cost of running one on the students' spring break this year. We cover all of the costs for the students, so we have to run things as cheaply as possible.

The location can be anywhere in the U.S., but it should be near enough to a major airport or major city, preferably one that is a hub for an airline or otherwise has cheap flights from a lot of different places in the U.S. (we want it to be cheap and convenient to get to from a lot of different places in the U.S.), that people can get to the conference by public transportation or an inexpensive cab ride.

Some possibilities that I have considered include summer camps, corporate retreat sites, lower end hotels, college campuses that might have weird schedules with students moving out of dorms at odd times, and small convention centers. Are there others I haven't thought of?

Basically, what I need is the following, which should all be within short walking distance of one another:

-Space for about 70 people to sleep. Nothing fancy, but must have central heat/air conditioning as needed for the weather in the area. Students can share bedrooms like they do in dorms. Staff (about 10 of the 70 people) should have private bedrooms, but can share bathrooms with one another (their bathrooms should be separate from the students'). This requirement makes me think that a summer camp might not be appropriate.

-A large conference room where we can hold lectures with the whole group during the day and evening. Access to A/V equipment (DVD players, projector for presentations, etc.) in this room is required. We'll need this room from 9 am to 9 pm.

-5 or 6 smaller conference rooms where we can hold group discussions of 10-15 people apiece. We'll need these rooms from 9 am to 10:30 pm, and they must be in the same building as the main conference room.

-3 meals a day provided. Vegetarian and kosher options. Food need not be 4-star quality, but it should be at least as good as your average college cafeteria. Basically, good enough that college students won't complain about it, and with enough options so that people with dietary restrictions won't starve.

-Space and permission for parties. We want to hold a party each night with beer, soda, and food. They either need to cater the party for us at a reasonable price or be okay with us bringing in our own beer and other refreshments. The parties are always low-key, no one drinks underage (our attorneys are very strict about that), and we've never had a problem with anyone getting out of hand, but we must be allowed to have alcohol at our parties.

I'm interested in running this as cheaply as possible. Generally, our budget is about $500-700 per person for the week. College campuses over the summer make that easily doable, but the "corporate retreat" sites I've been looking at seem to charge much more than that. Is there some option I'm not thinking of that might allow me to pull this off? Are there colleges that have empty dorms over spring break? Summer camps? Hotels? Where can I hold my event?
posted by Amy Phillips to Work & Money (10 answers total)
There is a 4H Youth Hostel outside of Washington DC where I held a youth conference once. I don't recall the pricing, but it was cheap for sure.
posted by k8t at 9:45 AM on August 27, 2007

Loredo Taft sounds close to what you need though it's about 100 miles outside of Chicago. Booze is allowed as long as children aren't present.
posted by macadamiaranch at 9:57 AM on August 27, 2007

My son attended a conference at the 4H that k8t recommends. He had a great time.

You mentioned summer camps.... along those lines, look into scout camps (some of which have indoor facilitie) and church camps. The obvious drawback to most of those would be proximity to a major airport since most camps of that ilk are all about getting away from the big city. I would contact parishes/congregatons of local major denominations (Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc.) and see if they can help if you want to pursue that option. For the scout camps, look up local Boy Scout/Girls Scout council offices in your area.
posted by Doohickie at 10:20 AM on August 27, 2007

I'd check with Tulane University because I have a feeling that their dorms are not yet back to capacity.
posted by radioamy at 10:38 AM on August 27, 2007

Er... by that I mean they're not full.
posted by radioamy at 10:38 AM on August 27, 2007

International House at the University of Chicago?

Close to Midway Airport, which offers Southwest flights.

Depending on when your Spring Break falls, we might not even be on campus.
posted by rhoticity at 10:39 AM on August 27, 2007

Covenant Harbor is a really great facility for this. They are about 50-60 miles outside of Milwaukee and 70-80 miles from Chicago. They have the meeting space and the lodging (which is excellent and very clean), as well as the activities (rope courses, etc.)
posted by jeanmari at 10:46 AM on August 27, 2007

Most of the church sites I've contacted (as well as the 4-H site in the first answer) do not allow alcohol on-site. Unfortunately, that's a deal-breaker for us.
posted by Amy Phillips at 10:55 AM on August 27, 2007

Asilomar in Monterey. Perhaps just over the high end of your pricing, but it is in a beautiful place.
posted by johngumbo at 1:41 PM on August 27, 2007

We have a new facility here on Lake Martin that I think would be perfect for you. We just opened it in June. Harbor Lodge. 16 Acres, rented exclusively to one group at a time. Includes: 12 canoes, private beach, beach volleyball, aqua jump, basketball, 2 horseshoe pits, 12 cottage with 4 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms each, linens provided,main conference room accomodates 250, audio/visual equip included, 2 break out rooms with audio/visual and 52" plasma tv's
posted by lake at 2:35 PM on August 28, 2007

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