Bloomington is a jewel box of meeting possibilities with tiny drawers of unexpected venues to explore. The presence of Indiana University (IU) and its 37,000 students brings an element of worldliness to what would otherwise be defined as a small town in south central Indiana. Bloomington is also the site of two wineries, which are partly to credit for the city’s recent Orbitz ranking as the seventh-fastest-growing destination for wine and culinary enthusiasts.
Both of Bloomington’s wineries welcome after-hours events. Oliver Winery, on the edge of town, is Indiana’s oldest and largest winery. Its large tasting room adjoins a covered porch that overlooks a small pond. It’s a pleasant spot for an evening reception. Butler Winery has a tasting room in a 90-year-old house 10 blocks from the square, near the IU campus.
|Bloomington’s convention center is a couple of blocks from the town square.|
Farmers markets and local chefs who use locally produced in-season foods are also part of Bloomington’s appeal to foodies. And the city has no shortage of restaurants. Within a 10-block radius of the downtown courthouse square, hungry visitors can choose from about 100 restaurants.
“Some of them have been around for years, and others are brand new; and they represent every kind of ethnicity you can imagine,” said Julie Warren, director of convention sales and services at the Bloomington/Monroe County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s kind of an amazing thing to find in southern Indiana.”
Warren advises incoming meeting groups and convention planners to schedule some free mealtimes so they can dine at local restaurants, especially because most are so close to the city’s primary convention facility, the Bloomington/Monroe County Convention Center.
The convention center is a historical venue, built in 1923 as a factory and showroom for Model T Fords. In the late 1990s, the building was restored and turned into a 24,000-square-foot, two-story convention center. The center has 10 meeting rooms; its upper floor is dominated by the 9,400-square-foot Grand Hall, with original features such as metal roof tresses and large windows.
Hotels close by the convention center include the 117-room Courtyard by Marriott, which is attached to the center, and the 168-room Hilton Garden Inn, a couple of blocks away. The lagging economy has slowed plans for another full-service hotel, the 120-room Hotel Indigo, scheduled to open in 2011 across the street from the center.
Indiana University is home to the city’s other major meeting venue, the Indiana Memorial Union Hotel and Conference Center. Set in the middle of campus and part of the IU student union, this hotel features 187 rooms plus 50,000 square feet of meeting space. Because of its location in the student union, guests there also have access to a 400-seat theater, multiple on-site dining options, a bowling alley, an art gallery and the I.U.Bookstore.
Other hotels near campus accommodate overflow
|Bloomington is eternally youthful, thanks to Indiana University. Its campus abuts downtown.
. The Crowne Plaza, renovated last year, is a quarter-mile from campus and was formerly a Renaissance hotel.
The university attracts students and professors from around the world. That diversity spills out into the community in everything from restaurants to local attractions. Art galleries, theaters and cultural centers offer plenty of out-of-the-box locations for receptions and events.
The bureau is also encouraging groups to get out and explore the area with its Passport to Bloomington program. Originally conceived as a discount book to area restaurants, the publication is a real asset to visitors, offering discounts to more than 20 shops, restaurants and attractions.
“It gives them a little extra incentive to visit out favorite places,” said Warren, “and it’s been very popular with groups.”
Bloomington/Monroe County CVB