Monday, January 7, 2008

The Venue! Part 1

I know, I know, you've been all atwitter with anticipation. Well, your patience is about to be rewarded.

First, though, maybe you'd like to know where we didn't choose to have our wedding?

I looked at 36 places. It was exhausting. By "looked," I mean, researched, not actually visited in person. But still.

Actually, I should mention that in the very beginning of our engagement, before we had officially chosen a city to get married in, I had looked at some sites in southern Maryland, where my family lives. We live on the western shore of Maryland, on a peninsula surrounded by the Potomac River, the Patuxent River, and the Chesapeake Bay. It's really pretty. There's a bluff at Historic St. Mary's City that sits right on the water, and St. Mary's College and Solomons Island both have some pretty waterside spots as well. A spot I've had in the back of my mind for many years is the Officer's Club on the Patuxent River Naval Base, which has the nice combination of being an indoor facility with full-length windows overlooking the river. That would have been nice. But, we eventually decided on Louisville as the city in which we would get married.

For a few months I would idly peruse venue websites with no more frequency than I did any of the other vendors -- photographers, dresses, bridesmaid dresses, invitations, flowers, etc. We even drove down to Otter Creek Park soon after we got engaged, for the dual purpose of playing disc golf and checking out their reception facility. It was really pretty, right on the banks of the Ohio (see picture below) but it's about 45 minutes away, and there are only not-nice motels in the area, and we really couldn't ask everyone to camp in the park for an occasion like a wedding (but it would be a great camping site otherwise!), and it would be a hassle for guests to drive 45 minutes back to Louisville after the reception, and expensive to rent a drunk-bus for that distance. So Otter Creek was out (but it would be a gorgeous site nonetheless!).

Otter Creek Park. The conference center (you're looking at the back of it) sits on a hill overlooking the Ohio River. The patio on the level below the building would be a great place for a ceremony.

Then, around October, we realized we needed to get a move on things, because while we felt like we had plenty of time (and with a 21-month engagement, we definitely do), the holidays were coming up, and plenty of people were going to be getting engaged, and those who wanted a spring wedding would probably be looking at spring 2009 -- OUR spring 2009! -- as well. And we had to beat them to it, so I got down to business.

The problem, I quickly realized, was that it was very difficult to compare apples to apples with each of these places. You'd get a price quote, but it might include tables and chairs, or it might not. It might be for a 4-hour reception and the ceremony was extra, or it might be for a 4-hour reception plus a 1-hour ceremony. So I had to be organized. So I made a spreadsheet with the following list of items in Column A:

Site name
Contact Date
Available May 24, 2009?
Time available

Room name #1
Maximum guests #1, seated
Site fee #1
Price per guest #1
Items included in site fee #1

Room name #2
Maximum guests #2, seated
Site fee #2
Price per guest #2
Items included in site fee #2

Deposit due date
Caterers Allowed
Food cost
Alcohol policy
Parking availability
Other amenities available

I created a separate tab for each venue, and gathered as much information for each as possible. "Room #1" and "Room #2" was to account for the fact that some venues have multiple rooms for rent, often a larger and smaller one. I got the list of venues from various sources, including Louisville Bride Magazine, which is a great resource for local vendor listings and ads. I did some googling, too, which gave me a couple extra venues, including a downtown building that isn't currently occupied and is available for commercial lease, but whose owner is also willing to rent for one-time events, which I think is really cool. I probably missed a few, but by the time I had those 36, there were plenty.

Every venue I contacted was wide open for May 2009, with the exception of one that would otherwise probably have been a top contender: The Louisville Visual Arts Association, aka The Water Tower. First of all, their facility manager responded to me very quickly, which was awesome, and sent me an email not only with all the pricing information, but information about the site, its purpose (an art gallery), and planned construction. It also included this paragraph:
In August, September and October, 2008 the Gallery will contain an exhibit of noted Medical Illustrators. Although the specific pieces have not been selected yet, the work is expected to consist of drawings and paintings of the human anatomy, musculature, cardiovascular system, etc. It is expected at this time that the work will be hung in the Gallery and not overflow into the Hall.
I would be kidding myself if I didn't tell you that it made me almost throw the whole idea of May 2009 out the window, just for the chance to be married among medical artwork. Really, what is wrong with me?! In any case, all of 2009 was wide open at the Water Tower EXCEPT for Memorial weekend, because they have an annual Reggae Festival booked. Oh well.

After I had compiled as much information as I could, I presented them all to Eric, and we color-coded the sites according to our priorities, which were:
  • the ability to bring in our own alcohol (since we need to have Yuengling, and the only way we're going to get it is to bring it in ourselves),
  • the ability to have the ceremony and reception at the same venue,
  • a not-too-hefty fee
We also were looking for something fun and unique. We weren't huge fans of hotels right off the bat, but I took a look at the big ones in town just to make sure I wasn't missing out on any good deals (I wasn't). The sites we immediately eliminated based on price, restrictions, or other facts were coded as red; the next batch was orange, and then we were left with 4 yellow ones. I initially went to make the final 4 green, but Eric said we should reserve green for the ultimate winner. And he was right -- it was much more exciting that way (don't laugh).

A screenshot of the spreadsheet. You can see the yellow and orange-coded tabs for each venue (sorry for the crappy resolution, but if you click on the image you'll see the real-deal):

Our next step was to visit the final four:
Louisville Science Center
Mellwood Arts and Entertainment Center
Old Medical School Building

In the interest of length, I'll break the rest of this post up, so read the next entry if you want to find out more.


Lauren said...

WOW you were organized and did your due diligence. I did no such thing, and in fact, have yet to see the wedding site we booked. Definitely makes me nervous and makes me wish I had done what you did!

hwong14 said...

I definitely have the "nervous" personality that made me want to do what I did and explore all options. On the other hand, it's very exhausting and stressful to be that way, so I completely envy people who are able to see a place, love it, and pick it without looking back. In addition to that, we didn't really know any of the places in Louisville that were available, since we're so new to the area -- it's not like back at home, where I already had a short list of top venue contenders based on living there for so long. Plus, we're on a really tight budget, so we had to be sure we were getting the most bang for our buck, unfortunately. There were definitely places that, if I had just seen them once and had a more lenient budget, I could have booked on the spot. So no feeling nervous from you!!!