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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

America’s Heartland: Conferences on Campus

You can often find more meeting and hotel space than in a city of similar size that lacks an anchor college or a university. On top of that, college towns project a special measure of vitality. With a wealth of attractions targeted to students and faculty, they also offer much to visitors.

Perhaps nowhere is the appeal of a college town more evident than in the country’s heartland, where a number of highly regarded schools have long played central roles in their communities. Here is a look at some Midwest college towns that make great destinations for meetings.

Ames, Iowa

Home to Iowa State University, Ames offers an expanding selection of attractions that appeal not only to the college crowd, but also to visitors. The Main Street Cultural District features more than 50 locally owned specialty retail shops and restaurants. Activities and entertainment include a farmers market, an art walk and Firefly Country Nights with live music.

DG’s Tap House is a music venue and tap house that features 56 beer choices, and London Underground offers a variety of beers from all around the world. Located three miles north of Ames, Prairie Moon Winery and Vineyards is a family-owned winery that makes all wines on premise and maintains 12 acres of its own vineyards.

Other attractions include the university’s Reiman Gardens, which features a conservatory and a butterfly house as well as on-campus concerts and plays. Wide-ranging musical choices include chamber music and a popular jazz trio.

Several recently opened restaurants add to dining options, among them the state’s first self-serve wine bar, and a growing number of food trucks offer a down-to-earth lunchtime option.

Meeting facilities include the 38,600-square-foot Scheman Building, a 25-room conference facility that includes a 450-seat auditorium and an executive board suite and that is part of the Iowa State Center, located near the campus. Situated in the same complex is Hilton Coliseum. Primarily the venue for Iowa State athletics, it also has seven meeting rooms.

The city has more than 1,600 hotel rooms, with two new hotels slated to open in the spring. Among those offering meeting space is the Gateway Hotel and Conference Center, with 6,000 square feet of event space, 10 conference rooms and two boardrooms. The Hilton Garden Inn has 2,300 square feet of meeting space, and the Holiday Inn Ames Conference Center has three meeting rooms.

South Bend, Indiana

The obvious jewel in the crown of South Bend, Indiana, is the University of Notre Dame. Just walking through the legendary campus can be a treat for visitors. At any given time, guests may enjoy concerts, art exhibits or athletic events. Campus stadium tours are available, and conference attendees can also check out unusual activities such as broomball and curling lessons.

Meetings for groups of eight to 600 can be held at the Notre Dame Conference Center, which is connected to the 150-room Morris Inn. Combined meeting space totals nearly 30,000 square feet.

Only two miles from Notre Dame is the Century Center Convention Center, which offers 75,000 square feet of meeting space that includes two convention halls, one with 25,000 square feet and the other with 12,000 square feet of event space. The center also has two theaters, a 16,000-square-foot Great Hall with a view of the St. Joseph River through a 30-foot glass wall, and 18 event suites, including four that make up the main ballroom.

The facility is attached to the 291-room Doubletree by Hilton, which itself has seven meeting rooms totaling more than 12,000 square feet. On the outskirts of campus and on the grounds of St. Mary’s College is the 15,000-square-foot Gillespie Conference Center, which is connected to the Hilton Garden Inn and adjacent to the Inn at St. Mary’s Hotel and Suites.

A city of 100,000, South Bend combines the atmosphere of a small town with attractive amenities. The city stands as the state’s second-largest retail center, with a wealth of shopping and dining opportunities. Visitors may be interested in the Studebaker National Museum, the Potawatomi Zoo, the city’s symphony orchestra and, in the summer, the South Bend Cubs minor league baseball team. In 2015, the club unveiled a 17,000-square-foot expansion with a 2,500-square-foot observation deck and six regulation-size batting cages where visitors can test their batting skills.