The 10th anniversary ceremony of the Connectors Choice Awards was as much about the present and future as it was about the previous decade (and then some) Wednesday night at Cleveland’s newest event venue, Tenk West Bank.
Twenty-one CCA winners were crowned inside the former Tenk Machinery warehouse, which was built in 1879. Tenk West Bank had last July hosted four Republican National Convention parties in the name of then-Speaker of the House John Boehner, but the CCA ceremony was the first function at the venue since Marigold Catering in February started leasing space in the century-old facility on the west bank of the Flats.
“I knew Tenk West Bank when it was Tenk Machine and one of the owners was in NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners) with me years ago,” Balloon Crew owner Jacquie Sopko-Crolius said. “Back then it was full of … machines. Now the space has potential to be a great place for anything.”
Cleveland Business Connects magazine and parent company Contempo Communications hosted the CCA ceremony, which annually honors the region’s corporate events industry and business networking community. Approximately 450 guests attended. Past galas had been held at the House of Blues (2008-12), Galleria at Erieview (2013), State Theatre at Playhouse Square (2014-15), and Hard Rock Rocksino at Northfield Park (2016).
“Tenk was an amazing choice for the Connectors Choice Awards,” Rock The House President Matt Radicelli said. “The venue has great bones, and now that Marigold Catering is at the helm, it has a strong heartbeat, too.”
While Marigold catered the event, other significant event services were provided by Rock The House (production), Event Source (rentals), L’Nique Specialty Linen Rental (linens), and Plantscaping and Blooms (floral).
“I loved Tenk and what the vendors did with the space,” Mike Petrone of the Mike Petrone Band said. “I felt like I was in the East Village at an art opening. I fully expected to see Andy Warhol. Very cool.”
“We certainly loved collaborating with all the event partners to bring the 10th annual Connectors Choice Awards to life and to celebrate each other’s work,” Event Source President John Bibbo said. “It seemed fitting that such an event was hosted in a gritty-turned-glam space — a perfect metaphor for the 2016 Cleveland event season.”
CCA winners were recognized exclusively for their work in 2016. In light of the week-long RNC and Cavaliers’ and Indians’ title runs, the year will long be considered the area’s most significant ever in terms of event planning. Not surprisingly, most of the 99 CCA finalists cited those major functions in their written CCA submissions, which were reviewed by a panel of 23 judges, whose consensus determined the winners.
“As expected, considering the significance of 2016, we received a large number of compelling submissions; certainly more than the 21 winning documents,” CBC magazine Editor Thomas Skernivitz said. “We relayed those 21 stories in our current issue, which was released at the ceremony, and we’ll certainly follow-up in future issues with the accomplishments of some of the other organizations and individuals who didn’t receive CCA winners’ plaques but were definitely deserving nonetheless.”
(Disclosure: CCA partners were eligible to participate. No preferential treatment was given to them or any other CCA candidate throughout the voting process.)
Among the 21 winners were:
Balloon Crew (Corporate Event Gift/Award Company of the Year): “Being the local professional balloon company for the RNC and doing the ring ceremonies for the Cavs did more than increase income. It also tested us as a company,” Sopko-Crolius said. “We found we needed to update our procedures, revamp our inventory control, and move to close the ‘loopholes’ in our systems. It was a good thing.”
Event Source (Corporate Event Rental Company of the Year): “This past year everything our company has ever worked for came together all at once, especially for our 2016 workload. It was magic,” Bibbo said. “Our mission, culture, and training synced together to allow us to be a perfect logistical partner for our clients. We were trained and ready for the Cleveland Cavs championships and the Republican National Convention. By the time the World Series came around Cleveland event professionals and our staff were so in sync. It was magic!”
Marigold Catering (Corporate Event Offsite Caterer of the Year): “The RNC experience was very special for Marigold, not because of the sales or resulting profits, but because it really strengthened our relationships with our vendor partners,” owner Joan Marigold said. “We all, in concert, recognized our mutual responsibilities to make this a successful week and make Cleveland shine. We all closely collaborated for months, worked tirelessly together. We unified, not as individual companies but rather as one solid and united team to make the week exceptional.”
Mike Petrone Band (Corporate Event Entertainer of the Year): “The Republican National Convention was truly the highlight of 2016 for us,” Petron said. “We did several large events that week, and the excitement, the energy, and such high stakes — well, you knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Rock The House (Corporate Event Production Company of the Year): “The year was special for the Rock The House family of companies because we survived,” Radicelli said. “The bar wasn’t only raised … it was dangled high above us … suspended from a helicopter … in a hurricane. It was special to Rock The House because we proved to ourselves, and many others, that our team of rock stars can do anything.”
Fore! Wellness Classic Golf Outing, Lake Health Foundation (Corporate Event of the Year, Planning Budget Between $25,000-$75,000): “Lake Health Foundation had a lot of obstacles to overcome in 2016,” Major Gifts Development Officer Tracy Dennis said. “We had a great deal of movement staff-wise, which created some empty chairs for weeks, if not months at a time. However, we overcame those challenges and hosted our two award-winning events which both outshined the previous years in execution and financial attainment. We had our best financial year in the history of the foundation.
Up! A Creek conservation gala, West Creek Conservancy (Corporate Event of the Year, Planning Budget Greater than $75,000): “Our event, and 2016 in general, was very unique for us,” West Creek Executive Director Derek Shafer said. “Aside from us kicking off our 20th anniversary of conservation in Greater Cleveland, we attempted a completely new style of event, moving from an indoor one-stop shop, to an outdoor logistically nutty event. We wanted to bring people to a park we helped create, and give them an experience that would not only bring them back, but further involve them in our organization! We learned a lot, but ended up pulling it off with a small yet dedicated team.”
Kevin Grissinger, special events manager, Greater Cleveland Food Bank (Corporate Event Planner Rising Star of the Year): “Nothing will top the year 2016 for me,” Grissinger said. “I was part of history with breaking the professional sports curse with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Lake Erie Monsters. I also had a lot of challenges in my year with the Greater Cleveland Food Bank but rose above them. I was also rewarded with my first ever promotion. I feel like I ‘made’ it in 2016 and cannot wait to tell stories of this year in 50 years.”
Linley Murphy, senior account executive, Event Source (Business Networking Star of the Year): “The year was made particularly special by our ability to manage our normal busy season along with the challenges of the large volume of RNC business,” Murphy said.
Rotary Club of Cleveland (All-Around Business Networking Organization of the Year): “2016 was truly the ‘year of Cleveland,’ and we at the Rotary Club of Cleveland are so proud of the fact we were at the center of it all,” Past President Jerry Jarzabek said. “A very special year for our city, members, and friends.”
Professional Women’s Connection (Women’s Business Networking Organization of the Year): “We celebrated an expanding opportunity in 2016 to support our members experiencing traumatic life events while reaching out to introduce networking to women unable to participate in traditional networking venues,” President Janice Marie Litterst said. “And everyone benefited.”
Engage! Cleveland (Young Professionals Business Networking Organization of the Year): “2016 was a special year for Engage! Cleveland as we hired a new staff person, created new programs, and launched a membership model to help employers with their talent attraction and retention needs,” President Ashley Basile Oeken said. “I was completely blown away by the Tenk space and can say that it is completely different than any other space I have been to in Cleveland. From pulling up and being met by a garage door, to the rustic chic of an old industrial building, it was a new experience. The vendors made the space look absolutely beautiful and I was blown away by the linens and table centerpieces.”
Other CCA winners included:
Driftwood Catering (Corporate Event Onsite Caterer of the Year)
FastSigns Downtown Cleveland (Corporate Event Sign and Banner Company of the Year)
Metropolitan at the 9 (Corporate Event Hotel Venue of the Year)
Music Box Supper Club (Corporate Event Non-Hotel Venue of the Year)
Tokar Event Design (Corporate Event Floral Design Company of the Year)
Business Expo, Heights-Hillcrest Regional Chamber of Commerce (Corporate Event of the Year, Planning Budget Less Than $25,000)
Adina Magda, event manager, Greater Cleveland Partnership/COSE (Corporate Event Planner of the Year)
Dale McDonald, owner, Dale McDonald Photographer (Corporate Event Photographer/Videographer of the Year)
Diane Helbig, founder, Seize This Day (Corporate Event Speaker of the Year)