Though each has its own distinct draws, all of the major meeting destinations in North and South Dakota offer planners one key thing: an opportunity to plunge into the rich history and landscapes of the former American frontier without having to travel too far from home.
Rapid City, South Dakota
As the gateway to four national parks — Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Black Hills National Forest, Badlands National Park and Wind Cave National Park — Rapid City does a brisk business on the leisure side, making it a very attractive option for planners whose groups typically tack on extra days before or after meetings to explore on their own or with their families.
“We’re centrally located and affordable, so we’re a great fit for planners looking to go outside of the box, whose clients are tired of going to the same tier-one cities,” said Lisa Storms, director of convention sales for the Rapid City Convention and Visitors Bureau. “And for Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, we’re just a day’s drive away. A lot of people don’t realize that Denver is just six hours away, or if you come from the west, you get to pass Yellowstone, Cody and Cheyenne along the way.”
Planners can even take their meetings right to the surrounding landmarks for everything from receptions to small indoor meetings. The Crazy Horse Memorial, an independent monument project honoring the area’s Native Americans, has both indoor and outdoor options. Mount Rushmore has a pavilion that can be tented and the possibility of renting the on-site restaurant outside of peak leisure season. Storms also sets up a lot of meeting groups at Custer State Park, which includes a variety of indoor resort-style spaces and outdoor pavilions.
In downtown Rapid City, the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center is the place for large events and conventions, with 250,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space and a 10,000-seat arena. Four hotels lie within a two-block radius of the convention center, including the Hotel Alex Johnson, a historic property that has hosted five U.S. presidents. It dates back to the carving of Mount Rushmore and is in the process of reopening as a Hilton Curio property. Nearby, the Journey Museum, which walks visitors through 2.5 billion years of the archaeological and cultural history of Rapid City, welcomes groups for evening receptions on its exhibit floors.
Storms advises that September is peak season for meetings in Rapid City. The Buffalo Roundup draws more than 20,000 visitors each year to see Custer State Park’s 1,300 buffalo on the move that month, and it is also a popular time for military reunions.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Rapid City is just a short drive from a plethora of natural South Dakota attractions, but the city of Sioux Falls revolves around its own top attraction: its eponymous waterfall in the Big Sioux River. The falls are now protected in Falls Park, and they symbolize a key theme that ties together many of Sioux Falls’ top attractions for leisure visitors and meeting planners looking for unusual venues: an element of nature pivotal to the city’s history that is now protected and enhanced through interpretive elements.
Planners can take advantage of Sioux Falls’ best view and incorporate an element of natural inspiration into a luncheon or afternoon meeting by booking Falls Park’s historic Overlook Café, which served for more than 60 years as the headquarters of the Sioux Falls Light and Power Company. For a more active afternoon in the park, the full-service Sioux Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau can arrange walking tours of the greenway through the park or provide a step-on guide for a driving tour of the park or the nearby historic district or quarries.
The mingling of past and present flows through many of Sioux Falls’ top meeting venues, such as the Washington Pavilion, South Dakota’s first high school, which has been renovated into a glass-enclosed space with six indoor art galleries and a 1,800-seat great hall and is connected to the Kirby Science Center, home to more than 100 hands-on science exhibits for all ages. For a newer state-of-the-art modern meeting facility, planners also have plenty of options, particularly the Sheraton Sioux Falls Convention Center, which was built in 1998 and completed a $6.5 million renovation in 2014. It features 97,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 16,800-square-foot ballroom.
“Though it’s often a bit of education to get meeting planners to bring their groups here, once they’re here, they’re always pleasantly surprised with the facilities and location, with downtown in walking distance of the biggest attraction, Sioux Falls,” said Mattie Burnham, director of sales for the Sioux Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They call us a ‘hidden gem’ in the Midwest because we have the accommodations and facilities of a tier one city, but the Midwest hospitality and attention to detail that sets us apart.”
Although it has its own regional airport, which serves 200 cities from nearby Minneapolis to Orlando, Florida, and Los Angeles on the coasts, Sioux Falls’ position in southern South Dakota at the borders of Minnesota and Iowa makes it an easy drive from Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.