Mount Rushmore is South Dakota’s most prominent tourist attraction, yet the four faces etched in stone are far from the only sights to see and far from the lone off-site event venue in the Rapid City area.
The Rapid City CVB has detailed 15 other venues in its recently released “Unique Venues” brochure. Many are small, local endeavors that channel the state and region’s personality.
For example, meeting planners can opt for a tasting of Pumpkin Bog, Red Ass Rhubarb, Chokeberry Medley and other wines made from local fruits and vegetables at Prairie Berry Wine; a lesson on 2.5 billion years of history at the Journey Museum; a visit with baby bears at Bear Country USA; or an evening enveloped in art at the Dahl Art Center.
“The brochure is for the groups that are trying to hone in on something a little different,” said Lisa Storms, sales and servicing director. “Everyone has meeting space and sleeping rooms, but we wanted to show what is different and unique to the area.”
The Midwest Travel Writers Association used a number of the venues when it met in Rapid City last fall. The writers traveled to Prairie Berry, where they sipped wine as they listened to the winds whistling through ponderosa pines that surround the property.
Of course, the group also visited Mount Rushmore, trooping up its steep trail, learning about how dynamite and other less-explosive tools were used to carve the faces of the four presidents.
Directly or indirectly, Mount Rushmore often tips the scales in Rapid City’s favor when it comes to attracting meeting business. The monument is a draw for military reunions, a growing market.
“There is no setting that is much more patriotic, with the four faces of Mount Rushmore,” Storms said.
The area’s ties to American Indian culture have helped it win national conventions that include the National Congress of American Indians’ midyear conference and the National Indian Education Association’s convention, which will meet in Rapid City in 2013 and which chose the city over Chicago and Minneapolis.
Against bigger and better-known cities, Rapid City often fares well, because its room rates are more affordable, and its hotels offer free parking and free wireless Internet access. (Downtown is an exception for free parking; the Rushmore Civic Center is the exception for complimentary wireless.)
The city also has new and refurbished hotels. In June, a Hilton Garden Inn with 5,000 square feet of meeting space will open in an area along Interstate 90 where there is already a concentration of hotels and meeting space, including the 267-room Best Western Ramkota Rapid City Hotel and Conference Center, with 35,000 square feet of meeting space. In addition to housing overflow for large conventions based at the Ramkota, nearby limited-service hotels with small-meeting space allow organizations related to groups like the National Indian Education Association to have smaller meetings during those groups’ conventions.
Another plus is the recent renovation of the Hotel Alex Johnson, Rapid City’s historic downtown hotel, which has become part of the Choice Hotels group and is among its Ascend properties.
“It now has the polish it so deservedly needed,” said Storms.
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