The center of Illinois is home to both history and industry and is easy to reach for meeting attendees traveling from a variety of areas. Smaller markets in this area offer a number of advantages to meeting planners.
Lelonie Luft, marketing manager for the Peoria Convention and Visitors Bureau, knows well visitors’ first impressions of her city.
“It’s quite a surprise for people who haven’t been here,” she said. “Coming in, you see nothing but cornfields for miles, and then this huge city seemingly rises up. We have a fabulous skyline along the Illinois River.”
Located halfway between Chicago and St. Louis, Peoria is more than home to world manufacturing giant Caterpillar, Inc.; it’s also known for hosting successful meetings.
The Peoria Civic Center downtown boasts 110,000 square feet of exhibit space, including a 12,000-seat arena, a 2,200-seat theater and a 27,000-square-foot ballroom with 15 breakout rooms.
Peoria Marriott Pere Marquette hotel, a historic gem, connects to the civic center by skyway. Other nearby hotels include Four Points by Sheraton and the Marriott Courtyard, opening this summer.
Besides the convention center, meeting planners can choose from several other venues in the area. Five Points Washington, a large multipurpose facility nearby in Washington, has a 1,000-seat performing arts center and four banquet-meeting rooms that seat 125 guests each. Avanti’s Dome is an event and sports facility in nearby Pekin.
For after-meetings fun, there’s the Par-A-Dice Hotel and Casino in East Peoria RiverFront Festival Park, busy year-round with activities and events; the Spirit of Peoria riverboat, Wildlife Prairie State Park and the Peoria Zoo.
If a group needs to meet near the heart of state government, Springfield makes sense. “We get many association and government meetings,” said Alicia Erickson, communications and marketing manager for the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau. “But our largest markets for meetings are auto-related shows, rallies and conventions; religious, sports, military reunions and agriculture.”
The Prairie Capital Convention Center has 65,000 square feet of meeting space near Springfield’s historic districts and state Capitol. The Illinois State Fairgrounds has 29 buildings, large and small, historic and new, including a coliseum, an auditorium, a theater and thousands of square feet of space to use.
The Crowne Plaza Springfield has 50,000 square feet of banquet and meeting space and 25 flexible meeting areas. Additional options include the Hilton Springfield Hotel with 360 guest rooms and the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel and Conference Center with 316 rooms. Both are within walking distance of the convention center and many top destinations downtown. Altogether, downtown has 900 guest rooms.
As for downtime, Springfield gives meeting attendees a nice local dining scene with farm-to-table restaurants and microbreweries.
Springfield is enveloped in history. “We’re Abraham Lincoln’s hometown,” said Erickson. The No. 1 activity is visiting historical sites, like the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.