Conference and convention centers sometimes get a bad rap as being ho-hum options for meetings. Not so at these venues in the Heartland states.
Frank Lloyd Wright designed one center, and the Civilian Conservation Corps built another during the throes of the Great Depression. Guests may sleep on furniture built by Amish hands or sit on chairs made by Illinois inmates. Each of these Heartland conference and convention centers has a story to tell.
Mystic Lake Center
Prior Lake, Minnesota
The new Mystic Lake Center is scheduled to open this month, and when it does, it will bump the Mystic Lake Casino Hotel to the Twin Cities’ second-largest hotel and make it the area’s only full-service resort, said group sales manager Holland Tudor.
“The community’s leaders recognized the need for the center, both in the region and for the property’s own guests,” but there was also a need for “an experience that was different than downtown and spoke to what the Shakopee Mdewakanton community believes in,” she said.
The Mystic Lake Center expansion includes a new 70,000-square-foot conference center as well as a new, nine-story, 180-room hotel tower that will bring the hotel’s total number of guest rooms to 766. The event center will have a 17,000-square-foot ballroom and a 13,000-square-foot junior ballroom. The entire west wall of the 20,000-square-foot prefunction area is made of sage glass, flooding the space with natural light and views of the resort’s golf course.
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community owns the hotel and casino, which sits on the community’s 4,000 acres about 25 miles southwest of downtown Minneapolis. OPOS Tours and Travel can customize group tours for 10 to 200 people to educate visitors about sacred sites and indigenous art and culture. A sustainability tour may showcase the community’s organic garden, recycling plant, beehives, honey bottling, and green roofs on the fire station and the on-site Dakotah! Sport and Fitness buildings.
Group gaming options include blackjack lessons and tournaments, slot tournaments and a private casino night in a ballroom.
About 2,500 people visit Monona Terrace every year simply to tour the building, which is saying something for a community and convention center. The iconic structure in Madison, Wisconsin, was originally designed in 1938 by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, even though construction wasn’t completed and the doors didn’t open until nearly 60 years after Wright first proposed the plan — and almost 40 years after his death.
The center offers specialty guided group tours that allow visitors and meeting attendees to delve into the history of the architecture and of Wright, as well as the building’s newer sustainability efforts, said director of sales Laura MacIsaac.
The building sits on the banks of Lake Monona; its curving white walls and arching building-high windows front the water. The semicircular building has five indoor levels and is topped by rooftop gardens. The first level includes the 3,500-square-foot Lakeside Commons with water views, as well as a 37,000-square-foot divisible exhibit hall. On the second level, the 5,500-square-foot Community Terrace overlooks the lake, and the fourth level features the 7,000-square-foot Grand Terrace with lake views as well as a flexible ballroom, an event hall and several meeting rooms.
The sprawling rooftop terrace and gardens offer groups more than 40,000 square feet of event space, as well as expansive views of Lake Monona and the city skyline. The rooftop Lake Vista Café menu features casual gourmet fare.