AS CORPORATE CLIENTS seek new ways to impress guests and bolster brand identity, museums, nightclubs, and retail spaces are some of the unconventional venues vying for their events.

SPACE EXPLORATION

“We're not just a venue, we're a branding opportunity,” says Cheryl Serame, Special event sales manager for San Francisco — based Metreon. The Sony Entertainment — owned retail and entertainment center features more than a dozen private and semiprivate areas where corporate clients can entice guests with visual effects and interactive activities.

Serame points to Metreon's Gateway space, which features large plasma screens where gobos and intelligent lighting can display corporate logos and other visuals. “When people walk in, it's an immediate recognition of branding,” she says. The facility's 175-guest-capacity Action Theater is ideal for product launches and panel discussions, such as those recently hosted by clients SalomonSmithBarney and Ford Motor Co., she adds.

Rather than a spectrum of high-tech gadgetry, New York's Metropolitan Pavilion features “a really beautiful blank canvas,” says venue director Fred Seidler. Available since 1996 as an event facility, the 104-year-old landmark building holds four separate event spaces — including a 30,000-square-foot, 1,600-guest-capacity, street-level room with hardwood floors throughout — and features T1 connectivity and Internet access. Seidler cites Microsoft, Miramax, and MCA Records as recent clients, and adds that corporations and event producers appreciate that the venue allows them “to come in and really create their image, their passion.”

THEME SCENE

The multiple theme areas at House of Blues, Las Vegas, have appealed to a range of clients from the William Morris Agency to Intel, says director of sales Terri Toennies. Among elaborately decorated event spaces at the nightclub, located on the grounds of Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, are a “juke joint” — themed restaurant with room for 1,000 and the exclusive 400-guest-capacity Foundation Room, which features Indian and Middle Eastern decor.

According to Toennies, the venue offers corporate clients a distinct benefit when it comes to booking guest-impressing entertainment. “We go directly to the agent that represents the musician, rather than a booking agency, so we eliminate the middleman,” Toennies explains. As a result, she says, event clients can expect to pay a straight 10 percent markup on entertainment, rather than the more common 30 percent to 40 percent.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Michelin, and Verizon are just a few of the corporate clients that have entertained guests at the Los Angeles — based Petersen Automotive Museum. “The interior, the backdrops — it takes you back in time,” says director of special events Kiera McCann. In addition to a 3,000-guest capacity, the museum features exhibits including Million Dollar Cars, Hollywood Cars, and 100 Years of Buick. McCann says the venue is ideal for large corporate events with diverse guest lists because “everybody can relate to cars.”

JUST FOR FUN

A spirit of play pervades the 110,000-square-foot Toys “R” Us Times Square, New York, says Lauren Merkin, who handles the venue for exclusive caterer Restaurant Associates, based in New York. Besides featuring what Merkin calls “built-in decor” — displays include a New York skyline constructed of LEGO bricks and a 4,000-square-foot Barbie dollhouse — the venue stocks a wealth of branding possibilities. Corporate clients can do everything from broadcasting presentations on the facility's 20 large-screen HDTV audio/video monitors to printing a company name and logo on tickets for its 60-foot indoor Ferris wheel.

For views, it's hard to beat the 1,200-guest-capacity Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum in Chicago, says special event director Colleen Duke. Complementing overhead projections of the cosmos in the venue's two theaters is an equally dramatic view of Lake Michigan. Motorola, Boeing, and other clients looking to hold “an event with a very strong Chicago visual” have proven fans of the facility, Duke adds.

She cites the interactive StarRider Theater, which can be included as part of an event rental package, as a hot add-on for clients looking to wow guests while giving them a chance to work as a team. “The audience can take control of the theater and fly it through different alien environments,” she says. “They get the universe at their fingertips.”

RESOURCES

Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum, 312/922-STAR; House of Blues, Las Vegas, 702/632-7670; Metreon, 415/369-6008; Metropolitan Pavilion, 212/463-0071; Petersen Automotive Museum, 323/964-6348; Toys “R” Us Times Square, 212/789-8225 See this story on the Web at www.specialevents.com.