The name Ringling rightly conjures up visions of “The Greatest Show on Earth,” the
circus started by John Ringling and his four
brothers. What most people don’t know is
the circus and other entrepreneurial endeavors made John one of the richest men
in the U.S. at one time with an estimated
fortune of $200 million.
In the early 1900s, John and his wife
Mable purchased land in Sarasota and
decided to build a house in what became
their winter haven. Mable wanted the
house in a Venetian Gothic style of a palazzo in Venice, Italy. With views of the Sarasota Bay, the $1.5 million, 36,000-square-
foot mansion was built.
Today, the opulent Ca’ d’Zan, or “House
of John,” serves as a backdrop for intimate
events on the Terrace for up to 250. For
larger groups, The John & Mable Ringling
Museum of Art Courtyard with its Renais-sance-style architecture and gardens—
including a replica of Michelangelo’s David—
can accommodate up to 800.
“We offer impressive outdoor venues for
corporate gatherings in the Museum of Art
Courtyard or Ca’ d’Zan Terrace,” said Chris-
tina Fraser, assistant director of events.
“Tibbals Learning Center is perfect for a
smaller crowd desiring a circus theme.”
Another venue, the Marie Selby Botan-
ical Gardens, is a 15-acre bayfront prop-
erty located near hotels and downtown
Sarasota overlooking the Sarasota Bay. The
Gardens offer a variety of rental options,
including indoor and outdoor space for
groups large and small.
The Christy Payne Mansion on property
is listed on the National Register of Historic
Places and offers a variety of room types
and sizes for any function or occasion. The
Great Room by the Bay features 60 feet of
glass windows showcasing a beautiful bay
view. Rentable outdoor spaces include
the Great Lawn, Banyan Grove, Children’s
Rainforest Garden and Schimmel Pavilion.
“More and more of our meeting planners
are looking to add an experiential com-
ponent to their events,” said Jill Vance,
director of sales for the Beaches of Fort
Myers and Sanibel Visitor and Convention
Bureau. “A common trend is to hold an
off-site event at a venue rich in history and
One venue in particular fits the bill,
according to Al Mueller, CEO at Creative
Events & Rental in Fort Myers.
“We’ve done events at the 1908 Heitman
House right on the Caloosahatchee River,”
he said. “Guests are brought back to a
different era when they walk through the
The grounds and wraparound porch
provide a great venue for upscale events.
Events include dinner and seating for up to
250 and 300 for a cocktail reception.
The Mound House museum on the
All over southwest Florida along the Gulf Coast, historic venues and other enticing spots abound to host groups. From the European-inspired Ringling Museum of Art with its views of
Sarasota Bay to the 1908 Heitman House in Fort Myers
on the Caloosahatchee River, to the NGALA Wildlife
Preserve in Naples, a variety of sites offer memorable
settings for once-in-a-life time events.
SIDNEY & BERNE DAVIS ART CENTER, FORT MYERS
CA’ D’ZAN, THE JOHN & MABLE RINGLING
MUSEUM OF ART, SARASOTA
Southwest Florida boasts venue variety
BY JENNIFER JUERGENS
with its off-site options