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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Bentonville, Ark.: Sam’s town is an easy sell

Courtesy Bentonville CVB

Where is Bentonville, Ark.?

Bentonville is in the northwest corner of Arkansas, five minutes from Rogers and 20 minutes from Fayetteville. Although Bentonville has a population of 36,855, the metro area is home to 464,623 people.

How do we get there?
Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, with nonstop service to and from more than 15 cities, is 10 minutes from town. Bentonville has six national car-rental companies, as well as a local bus service, taxis and limousines.

What types of meetings best suit Bentonville?
Being the home base for Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, and many of its vendors, and having Tyson Foods and JB Hunt Transport Services in the region make Bentonville better than the average small town when it comes to accommodating corporate meetings. The sports market is also booming. Among the events held in Bentonville are USSSA Baseball, American Softball Association softball, Kick It 3v3, and the National Golf Association Hooters Pro Golf Tour.

Associations are also drawn to the city. Because the Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel and the Great Passion Play are nearby, religious groups also like to meet in Bentonville.

Did you know?
Talk about dividing assets. When divorce split the Dickson Family in 1904, their home on West Central Avenue was cut in two, and one-half was moved to a new location.

The Comfort Suites Bentonville is in the top 3 percent of hotels in its chain.

The TownePlace Suites by Marriott Bentonville has received 41 awards since it opened in 2004. The most recent was its Gold designation in February by Marriott International.

What’s new?

– Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is under construction on 100 acres within walking distance of downtown. The Walton Family Foundation has provided funding; Alice Walton, daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, is the museum’s founder. Designed by architect Moshe Safdie, the glass and wood museum will be built around water features. Among the possible meeting spaces are a 250-seat auditorium and a glass-enclosed gathering space.

– Another work of art, 21C Museum Hotel, is slated to open in 2012. The first 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville, Ky., has become known for its edgy art and its quality. “Condé Nast Traveler” rated it the No. 1 hotel in the United States in 2009. The Bentonville location will have 12,000 square feet of meeting space; like the original hotel, it will have rotating art exhibitions and live art events. The 130-room hotel’s restaurant will support sustainable and local agriculture.

– Lawrence Plaza opens this month, featuring the state’s only outdoor ice skating rink and a splash park.

Tell me about Bentonville’s main meeting venues.
– The Clarion Hotel and Conference Center has more meeting space than any other venue. The 105-room full-service property is attached to 24,000 square feet of meeting space. Three hotels are within walking distance, including the 103-room Sleep Inn.

– The Doubletree Guest Suites and Conference Center has 8,500 square feet of meeting space and 140 suites.

– Meeting attendees feel at home in the Jackson House, a 1918 Craftsman-style home and meeting center. A dozen can convene on the back porch or in the living room, or set up tables near the pool for dinners of up to 50.

– Compton Gardens and Conference Center combines the convenience of a downtown location with the tranquility of 6.5 acres of naturalized gardens. The conference center is the converted home of the late Neil Compton, the physician and naturalist who is credited with saving the Buffalo River.

Tell me about some offbeat spots for off-site events.

– At the Italianate-style Peel Mansion and Heritage Gardens, a carriage house accommodates around 100; a conservatory handles 75.

– Gain a better understanding of the Native American tribes that populated this country long before Europeans arrived through the holdings of the Museum of Native American History, which handles events of up to 100.

Tell me about some sites worth seeing?
– Take a stroll on the 1.5-mile Crystal Bridges Trail, which will be the pedestrian entrance to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art when it opens. The trail begins near the downtown square; there’s sculpture and interactive art along the path.

For a true taste of Bentonville…
Modern Latin and American cuisine collide, and it’s a happy mashup at Table Mesa Bistro on the square downtown. Some traditions shouldn’t be tampered with, and that’s the case at Fred’s Hickory Inn, a family-run restaurant that’s been churning out pit barbecue, steaks, pastas and desserts for 35 years. Station Cafe’s cheeseburger has been voted the best in Northwest Arkansas. As one local says, the smell of burgers and fries “takes you by the hand and drags you through the front door.”

Tell me about some extra-special CVB services.
When planner Shirley McGhee realized she’d be passing through Bentonville, she called the CVB the day before to arrange a tour. The CVB’s director of sales showed McGhee around town, taking her to the farmers market and to see work under way on the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

The bureau’s corporate account with Enterprise car rental comes in handy for meetings booked in Bentonville. The CVB will set up a Web page so groups can rent vehicles with one easy link. Groups like the Open Bible Annual Convention, which met there in 2009, also make good use of the CVB’s discounted rate.