Often just minutes from major metro downtowns, suburbs can offer the best of both worlds: easy access to urban amenities with the added bonus of ample parking and hotel rooms, direct interstate access and the space to showcase large-scale attractions.
In America’s Heartland, meeting planners will find exciting venues like water parks, amusement parks and America’s largest mall to help attract attendees to their events.
For visitors flying into Chicago via O’Hare International Airport, accessing the 10,000 guest rooms and meeting facilities in Chicago Northwest — the communities of Elk Grove Village, Arlington Heights, Schaumburg and others — takes 10 to 15 minutes, “faster than they can arrive in the Loop and the city of Chicago itself,” said Dave Parulo, president of Meet Chicago Northwest.
The area includes 14 hotels with at least 3,000 square feet of meeting space, as well as the Schaumburg Convention Center, a 100,000-square-foot, column-free convention center that often offers financial incentives for first-time meeting and convention bookings.
While in the area, guests should make time to visit the famed Arlington International Race Course, known as one of America’s most beautiful thoroughbred racetracks. In nearby Arlington Heights, finding a post-meeting dinner option is easy, thanks to the more than 20 restaurants that fill its easily walkable, two-block downtown.
Shopping opportunities abound as well, especially in Schaumburg, home of the Woodfield Mall, Illinois’ largest, as well as the Streets of Woodfield and Woodfield Village Green, all of which are connected by a free trolley service.
“The trolley makes it easy for visitors to get from one shopping experience to another.” Parulo said.
Part of the Twin Cities metro area, Bloomington sits just south of Minneapolis-St. Paul on Interstate 35.
“You’re at the doorstep of the airport essentially, here in Bloomington,” said Dan O’Neil, vice president of strategy and sales for the Bloomington Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Bloomington boasts 9,300 hotel rooms across 43 brands and price points, the largest concentration in the state, more even than Minneapolis or St. Paul, O’Neil said, with five new hotels in the pipeline that will bring an additional 1,000 rooms to the community by 2022.
Bloomington is perhaps best known as home to the Mall of America, the largest mall in the country. The massive, bucket-list shopping destination is a great after-meeting activity for convention attendees — or a good excuse for family members to tag along on the trip. Even those who don’t love to shop can find things to do there, since it’s home to Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium, which features 10,000 aquatic creatures, and Nickelodeon Universe, which boasts indoor roller coaster rides, mini golf and more.
Though the city does not have a convention center, its many hotels offer meeting and convention space that can accommodate groups of up to 2,000, O’Neil said. Parking is free throughout Bloomington, though driving is optional once there, since all the hotels provide free shuttle service to and from the airport and Mall of America.
St. Charles, Missouri
Just eight miles from the St. Louis Lambert International Airport and on the Missouri River, St. Charles combines quaint downtown history and charm with state-of-the-art meeting and convention spaces.
The 95,000-square-foot St. Charles Convention Center can accommodate groups of up to 3,500 and is connected to an Embassy Suites hotel that features 296 suites, all of which were renovated in 2018.
Also within walking distance of the convention center are two new hotels: the Drury Plaza hotel and a Tru by Hilton. Both are in a booming entertainment district known as The Streets of St. Charles, home to Prasino, “a farm-to-table-type restaurant that’s been voted the No. 1 restaurant in St. Louis,” said Joanie Ohlms, director of sales for the Greater St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In all, the city has more than 2,600 hotel rooms within three miles of the convention center, with just over 4,000 rooms in St. Charles County.
While in the area, guests should make time to stroll through St. Charles’ historic downtown, home to more than 100 specialty shops and restaurants. They can also try their luck at the city’s Ameristar Casino or plan a day trip to the nearby Missouri wine country.
The city is also home to Missouri’s first state capitol, which is open for tours, and was the starting point of Lewis and Clark’s westward expedition. The CVB can connect groups with guided tours of the downtown Main Street historic district. For those who enjoy meandering on their own, it also offers self-guided audio tours and maps.
Mason/Warren County, Ohio
Home to King’s Island amusement park and Great Wolf Lodge indoor water park resort, Mason, Ohio, offers visitors two opportunities for a fun escape. Just 30 minutes from downtown Cincinnati and roughly 40 minutes from downtown Dayton, Mason is easy to reach from either interstates 71 or 75.
In addition to indoor waterslides, a wave pool, a lazy river and more, Great Wolf Lodge of Cincinnati/Mason has 410 guest suites and more than 20,000 square feet of meeting space, including 15 breakout rooms. A pedestrian walkway connects the property to nearby King’s Island, which has its own water park and more than nine miles of roller coaster track.
But the fun doesn’t stop in Mason. Warren County has plenty to see and do. In Lebanon, the Golden Lamb Inn and Restaurant, opened in 1803 as a stagecoach stop, is Ohio’s oldest continuously operating business.
“They have several rooms where they can host groups in a private meal,” said Linda Smith, senior sales manager with the Warren County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
For those looking for nontraditional meeting venues, the YMCA Camp Kern in Oregonia can accommodate groups for up to 300 in its 10,000-square-foot Schiewetz Assembly Hall, and groups can work with camp facilitators to integrate team-building activities such as ropes courses and equine adventures into their events.
Other options include Valley Vineyards Winery and Brewery in Morrow, which can accommodate 160 for meetings in its Cabernet Room, and Bonnybrook Farms in Clarksville, which offers “chuck wagon dinner rides with a big camp fire, a really good option for groups that’s very family friendly,” said Scott Hutchinson, the CVB’s senior communications manager.
Part of the Milwaukee metropolitan area, Waukesha is roughly 20 miles to the west of Brew City. Though it does not have a dedicated convention center, its Ingleside Hotel, which reopened in September under new branding and after a complete renovation, offers an indoor water park, 194 guest rooms and suites and more than 40,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space for groups of up to 720 attendees. Additionally, the Milwaukee Marriott West has 281 guest rooms, 12,000 square feet of meeting space and a large ballroom, said Tammy Tritz, executive director of the Waukesha Pewaukee Convention and Visitor Bureau.
During meeting downtime, guests can visit one of the city’s many museums, including Ten Chimneys, the estate of former Broadway stars Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt.
“It’s a very eclectic estate and world-class museum, which also has space for events, allowing planners the option of hosting an off-site banquet or social function there,” Tritz said.
For rock music buffs, the Waukesha Historical Society and Museum offers a permanent exhibit on native son Les Paul, known as a pioneer in the development of the single-body electric guitar.
“When people visit, they are often surprised at the amount of history and preservation here and at the charm of our downtown, which is full of art galleries, shops and restaurants,” said Tritz. “We are lucky to have a very quaint walking district that offers the opportunity to buy unique, handmade things from the area.”