Opportunities for unique and engaging offsite meetings and events are limited only by planners' imagination and creativity.

Companies in the market for offsite meetings have a wide array of choices in central Ohio.

Recognizing the need for space to bring people together for training, brainstorming or celebrating, several area venues have recently completed upgrades designed to attract locals and visitors.

Nationwide Hotel and Conference Center in Lewis Center and the Granville Inn in Granville have undergone extensive renovations. The facilities offer everything from healthy snacks to state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment to help ensure successful meetings. The Columbus Metropolitan Library also has invested in creating plenty of meeting spaces-especially at its newer facilities-to attract companies and community groups. Library rooms-some of which have kitchenettes-can be reserved at no charge.

Despite the growing number of spaces designed to accommodate business meetings and corporate gatherings, some locals prefer to tap their network of professional contacts to find unusual spots to hold events. Some of the city's larger companies are willing to open their doors and their conference rooms and lobbies to area nonprofits in need of spaces to meet or fundraise.

If you are willing to get creative, central Ohio has plenty of spots to host events, says Chris Curry, president and CEO of Destinations by Design, a Dublin-based meeting and event planning company. His team usually starts by looking at the guest list. The age and occupations of the attendees will likely play a role in what type of space they will find appealing, he says. With that in mind, event planners then evaluate the city's meeting spaces, art galleries, special attractions, corporate offices, even athletic facilities, to determine what might work, he says. Often, they land on nontraditional locations that may not typically host events. If it seems like a good fit, Curry and his team approach the venue.

"It really never hurts to ask," says Curry, who has rented Ohio Stadium for an event.

Experience Columbus also has found that many businesses or nonprofits will consider hosting an event if they can make it work without impacting day-to-day operations, adds Megumi Robinson, associate director of public relations at Experience Columbus.

"In Columbus, we have a ton of fantastic opportunities for meeting space if you want something out of the ordinary," she says.

Recent Renovations

Outside the city limits, two properties have undergone extensive renovations designed to increase their offerings and attract new customers. Nationwide Hotel and Conference Center spent an undisclosed amount of money this year renovating conference spaces and adding guest rooms at the 15-acre facility located about 15 miles north of Downtown. Denison University recently completed a $9 million renovation at the Granville Inn after purchasing the historic building out of receivership in 2013.

Nationwide Hotel and Conference Center, which used to be exclusive to employees of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., now regularly welcomes local and out-of-town companies as well as church retreats and wedding parties. The facility formerly known as NorthPointe Hotel and Conference Center added an indoor pool and a wellness center this summer, says general manager Kathryn Burton. The renovation also included 74 additional guest rooms bringing the facility's room total to 193.

A wing of meeting rooms also was renovated earlier in the year, adds Kelly Lockwood, an associate vice president in Nationwide's corporate real estate division. The space, which was originally constructed in 1974, received a much-needed facelift, she says. It was reconfigured for better flow and to create rooms that are square instead of long and narrow. The space can be configured in multiple ways and offers areas for breakout sessions, she says. The rooms can now accommodate groups ranging in size from two people to 100. The project also included lighting and technology upgrades.

Like the rest of the conference center, the new wing also focuses on making guests comfortable, adds Burton. The facility, which is managed by Columbus Hospitality, puts ergonomic chairs in its meeting rooms and serves quality food prepared by its in-house chef, she says. The conference center also offers a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces, many of which have been upgraded in the last five years. The largest ballroom can accommodate 600 guests. Companies can host campfires around a fire pit or a happy hour in the pub, Burton says. The onsite meeting planners encourage companies to utilize the outdoor spaces because the setting is one of the facility's unique factors, Burton says. Day packages start at $89 per person.

Renovations at the Granville Inn also focused on creating options, says Linda Turk, director of sales. The inn can accommodate groups of eight to 130 people. Settings range from a small library to private dining areas to a ballroom. Prices start at $18.95 per person for a meeting with lunch plus room rental fees. The inn offers 36 guest rooms and three suites.

Customers love that Denison kept the historic nature of the building but incorporated modern technology into the design. The facility offers the latest audio-visual technology in its event spaces. "We're a very unique niche," Turk says. "We have all of the amenities of a full-service hotel but we certainly don't look like a full-service hotel."

Varied Venues

Many nontraditional venues also welcome area businesses for meetings and functions. Companies wishing to offer employees the chance to hike, play video games, see wild animals or sample a new cuisine at their business function can make it happen.

Stratford Ecological Center, a working farm and nature preserve that focuses on education, has a meeting room capable of holding 90 people that it allows outsiders to use. "It's not our main mission, but we do offer it based on our schedule," says Emily Pidock, administrative coordinator for the Delaware-based organization. Groups that have used the room have enjoyed hiking the trails and watching farm activities while on breaks, she says. Rental rates start at $3.50 per person with a minimum charge of $70. The facility does not provide food or allow alcohol to be served.

The newly renovated KDB at Easton Town Center offers companies a chance to work and play. The restaurant and bar known for its interactive games has several private rooms. It can accommodate parties ranging from eight to 1,000 people. Companies also have the option of renting out the entire venue for larger functions, says Teena Parker, director of sales and marketing. Prices start at $15 per guest.

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Powell regularly hosts meetings where attendees are encouraged to explore the grounds between meetings, says Thom Blair, director of sales. Rates start at $12.99 per person plus facility rental fees.

The North Market has recently begun hosting private events, says Sheila Rossiter, director of marketing and development. The venue can hold up to 2,000. Prices start at $27 per person with a minimum of 500 people. Rossiter works with different vendors to create various menu options. Event planners love the space because it's so iconic, she says. "We highlight everything Columbus," she says.

Companies that think their employees would enjoy the chance to prepare their own dishes can do so at The Kitchen, a German Village venue where attendees work together to cook a meal. Corporate clients often book The Kitchen to launch a business event or as the wrap-up party, says Anne Boninsegna, co-owner of the restaurant. Group pricing starts at $1,250.

Exclusive Offers

Some nonprofits enjoy access to local corporate headquarters or other private spaces because of a special connection to the company. It's another way companies support area charities, says Kermit Whitfield, spokesman for the United Way of Central Ohio.

"Here in central Ohio, we're very fortunate to have a number of corporate partners who have great spaces that they allow their nonprofit partners to use," he says. "It's part of their giving back to the community."

Grange Insurance provides space to nonprofits when there's a close connection-such as an employee serving on the organization's board of directors-to the organization, says Patti Eshman, assistant vice president of community relations.

JPMorgan Chase & Co., has a similar policy, says Jeffrey Lyttle, senior vice president of public relations and communications.

Allowing nonprofits access to meeting and event space is a great in-kind service, Whitfield says. The United Way, which allows its partners to utilize space in its building, has had opportunities to host retreats at the headquarters of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams in the Arena District. "It's hugely helpful," he says. "It definitely bolsters creativity and gets the ideas flowing."

Melissa Kossler Dutton is a freelance writer.