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Get Educated on Illinois College Towns

College towns are often the perfect package for residents, visitors and, of course, students, who are both residents and visitors.

Universities attract high-class arts and entertainment, first-class activities and athletics, and world-class professors and programs. That allows relatively small cities, like these Illinois college towns, to boast amenities like those found in larger metropolises: museums, performing-arts centers, fine dining, international acts and easy public transit.


Home to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Champaign-Urbana area of Illinois may not immediately suggest global flair, but “we’re fortunate enough to have one of the largest international populations in the country,” said Terri Reifsteck, vice president of marketing for Visit Champaign County. The university has nearly 45,000 students, and about one-quarter of them are international, she said.

Illini Union presides over the quad and has more than two dozen meeting spaces and conference rooms. The Illini Room can seat up to 480 at rounds or can be split into two or three smaller spaces, and the second-floor ballroom has 5,800 square feet. The union’s Rec Room, where groups can bowl, shoot pool or play arcade games, is also available for private events. Also housed in the center, the Illini Union Hotel has 72 guest rooms and two suites. The university’s StateFarm Center reopened in October after a $170 million renovation, and the 15,500-seat arena can be set up for events.

Adjoining the 125-room I Hotel and Conference Center on the south end of campus is the 38,000-square-foot Illinois Conference Center with two large ballrooms and 10 meeting rooms. The Hilton Garden Inn Champaign/Urbana offers another 18,000 square feet of conference space and is next door to a Homewood Suites.

About 30 miles west of town, the university-owned Allerton Park and Retreat Center is “absolutely stunning,” Reifsteck said. The Georgian-style mansion has meeting space and 14 formal gardens and hiking trails on the grounds.


The sister cities of Bloomington and Normal are cradled in the C-shaped crook where interstates 74, 55 and 39 converge. The two communities are home to two major universities: Illinois State University (ISU) in Bloomington and Illinois Wesleyan in its slightly smaller neighbor, Normal.

“Both of our communities are very trendy and high tech with the universities here,” said Crystal Howard, director of the Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Both universities have advanced each of the communities they’re in.”

ISU has an “enormous amount of meeting space,” and the CVB often works with the school’s conference services to bid on and attract meetings and conferences. The Bone Student Center is the school’s major event venue with several function spaces, including the 14,575-square-foot Brown Ballroom and Braden Auditorium, with theater seating for over 3,400.

On campus, the 226-room Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel and Conference Center has about 24,000 square feet of meeting space, most of it in the 20,000-square-foot Redbird Ballroom, which can be divided into seven smaller spaces. Across the street, the 191-room Hyatt Place has three flexible meeting rooms with 2,600 square feet of function space. Both hotels are less than a three-minute walk to Uptown Station, one of the busiest Amtrak stations in the state.

Two miles north of campus, the ISU Alumni Center has a variety of event spaces; the largest, the Reiman Ballroom, can seat 180 people for dinner. The U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington can seat 8,000, and the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts can seat 1,200 in its auditorium. The theater also rents out its elegant lobby, ballroom and multipurpose room.