August 02, 2006

Prospective Conventioneers Check Out Spa City

By: by Kevin Goodwin, The Saratogian


SARATOGA SPRINGS - The Spa City is under the looking glass.

Twenty-six representatives of companies that could have conventions in town a got a look at what the city has to offer.

Deanna DiGiovine, meeting and event planner of Bayer Healthcare, Consumer Care Division based in New Jersey, experienced Saratoga and the racecourse for the first time.

"It's (Saratoga) very different than any other place we've had a conference," DiGiovine said. "It has a more homey feel."

She said smaller groups will probably come to the city and for things like team-building retreats. Anywhere from 15 to 50 executives could meet here.

DiGiovine looks for convenient transportation when selecting a location. Between the train station and proximity to an airport, Saratoga rates high.

"This town has a lot to offer," she said.

Tammy Janssen is also an event and meeting planner for Bayer. "I want to move here," Janssen said from atop of the luxury suite just before the third race. "I love it."

Janssen has been to a race course before but nothing to the site of Saratoga.

"This is 10 steps ahead of a typical racecourse," she said.

One thing Janssen looks for when planning an event is things to do in down time.

"I can't wait to walk around town," she said.

Eric Storberg, district governor nominee of the Rotary District 7230, attended the two-day tour of the city with his wife, Kristine. He said the group usually doesn't venture too far out of Westchester for conferences. Storberg used to train horses for harness racing and drove by Saratoga for many years.

"It's beautiful," he said. "I'm sorry I haven't been here sooner."

Storberg said things to do in free time is something he looks for when scheduling an event. Usually about 200 people attend.

"You have everything here," he said. "I had no idea all this went on."

He said it was time to think outside the box and book something outside his area.

"I heard great things about Saratoga and so far it's exceeded my expectations," he said. "I don't think it will be hard to sell Saratoga back home."

His wife even took some pictures to show people in Westchester.

Joe and Jo-Ann Cali also were enjoying their time at the track. Jo-Ann is in human resources at Bristol-Myers Squib, a pharmaceutical company based in New Jersey. She plans the events for the executive team.

Jo-Ann Cali scheduled a conference here in October.

Joe Cali said he's passed by Saratoga for 20 years on the way to Lake Placid. "I never knew it was this beautiful," he said.

Jo-Ann Cali is excited about her first meeting in Saratoga. "It's the first but won't be the last," she said. "It's so wonderful here." She added that Saratoga has a certain culture and having executives from all over the world, Saratoga is a nice fit. "I want to give them the opportunity to see the history and culture of this area," she said.

Barbara Kielb and Patricia Kavalski, both of LIMRA International out of Windsor, Conn., think the city is beautiful.

They look for the size of hotel and meeting space available in perspective cities. Their attendance could be as small 25 to 750. They've been everywhere from Las Vegas, Chicago, San Antonio and Orlando.

"This is a great opportunity for us to get familiar with the city," Kielb said.

Jennifer Wolf, a research assistant from the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, thought it was very nice in Saratoga.

"It's nice to offer attendees something they haven't seen before," Wolf said. "There is so much to offer here."

Terri Murphy, programs coordinator for NYS Credit Union League Inc., has had a convention here before and is committed for the next two years. "One of the best things is everyone is so personable. They make you feel like part of the family."