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High-tech meeting venue opens (4/02)

By Ian Ross Algoma’s Water Town Inn has made substantial renovations to their already posh meeting space and has established itself as one of Northern Ontario’s premier strategic business meeting venues. The Sault Ste.

By Ian Ross

Algoma’s Water Town Inn has made substantial renovations to their already posh meeting space and has established itself as one of Northern Ontario’s premier strategic business meeting venues.

The Sault Ste. Marie-based hotel teamed up with some local business partners when making about $350,000 worth of renovations to their Pavilion wing last year.

One of its meeting rooms has been outfitted with some avant-garde technology that can transform dull and dry corporate gatherings into an electronic media event.

The centrepiece room, dubbed Simply The Best Meeting Results, which opened last fall, offers a sophisticated software package within a well-appointed and comfortable setting aimed at producing some out-of-the-box thinking.

The room’s concept was initiated by hotel owner J. J. Hilsinger who returned from a resorts conference in Los Angeles brimming with ideas about the types of technologies that can be used in collaborative meeting centres.

He spent a year researching and touring several event facilities in the U.S. before drawing up a plan for the hotel, says Brandy Sharp, the Water Tower’s operations manager.

“We worked with Ellis Pastore Oswin (architectural consultants) to develop an idea of how we thought the centre should look and feel,” Sharp says.

Additional partners, such as Microage Computers, S & T Electrical and Dumanski Office Interiors, helped develop the conference centre for a fraction of the cost initially anticipated, she says.

An existing meeting room was refurbished into an oval-shaped space featuring a circular conference table with seats for 14 attendees at laptop-equipped workstations. The entire 775-square-foot space, which can squeeze in 36 people, is dominated by a large projection screen.

Furnished with plush Herman Miller armchairs, the room is equipped with built-in DVD/VHS players for any kind of audio-visual presentation or videoconferencing event.

A document camera eliminates the need to prepare any overhead transparencies, since any item or object can be projected onto the screen.

The hotel is using MeetingWorks software, one of the room’s “hallmarks,” mentions Sharp.

Among the tools the Seattle-made software comes with is the ability to create an electronic agenda to virtually eliminate chalkboards or flip charts.

For example, during traditional brainstorming sessions, a special function allows some of the more bashful and reserved attendees to post some off-the-walls ideas via their laptop, which appear anonymously on the projection screen

“So the idea is judged on the merit of the idea, not on who said it,” Sharp says.

By incorporating some leading-edge technologies in use at some of the finer convention and meeting facilities in North America, the hotel is following the trend-setting direction in which the meetings industry is headed, Sharp says.

“It allows you to take things that are time-consuming and put them together in one package so you end up with better results in a shorter period of time.”

And with time, budget and distance constraints sometimes preventing face-to-face meetings, improvements in collaborative technologies - through the use of phones, the Internet and video - are rapidly becoming an accepted way of doing business.

Sharp says the existence of such a venue brings substantial value to local businesses entertaining out-of-town clients and should ultimately benefit the city’s economy.

“We felt that it was an important initiative to put the city on the map.”

The hotel has been catering to business travellers for some time, offering computer jacks in about 50 of its 180 business classrooms and suites.

Their 8,200-square-feet of total meeting space, which includes their 400-seat Grand Hall room, has long been a popular community venue for receptions, speeches, lectures and business get-togethers. And some of their smaller meeting rooms are entirely wired for computer use.

Sharp says the hotel is also preparing some customized tour packages for business- meeting clients to provide some outdoor diversions such as the Agawa Canyon train tour and their private car service, fly-in fishing excursions, golf outings and casino nights.