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Heartland Charmers

America’s Heartland is full of smaller cities that are rich in history, culture and natural beauty, offering many of the same amenities as larger urban centers but at a less hectic pace. This makes them ideal destinations for meeting groups wanting to get away from it all.

Here are five small Heartland cities that will have people clamoring to attend meetings in their midst.

Kalamazoo, Michigan

Kalamazoo is not only fun to say but a fun destination in which to host a meeting or event. The Michigan city has a walkable downtown that features the nation’s first outdoor pedestrian mall. The mall is home to many local makers and retailers that offer cool DIY experiences, including The Kalamazoo Candle Company, where groups can make their own candles, or the Aroma Lab, where they can create their own scents to turn into perfumes or lotions. It also offers live music, breweries, wineries, distilleries and a beverage district where adults can walk around with their beverages.

The historic Kalamazoo State Theatre, which was built in 1927, got its start as a vaudeville house. It is now restored to its former grandeur, and visitors can take guided tours or rent out the full theater, mezzanine, or stage for concerts, shows or corporate parties.

The Radisson Plaza Hotel at Kalamazoo Center downtown is the largest meeting venue in the city at 50,000 square feet. The facility can host over 1,000 people theater-style or 800 for a banquet in the Arcadia Ballroom. There are 26 meeting rooms in total. The city and surrounding county have 3,971 rooms.

Across the street from the Radisson, the Hilton Garden Inn, and a Home2Suites by Hilton act as overflow hotel spaces for larger conventions.

Off-site venues include the Gilmore Car Museum, North America’s largest automobile museum with more than 400 vehicles on display, as well as Wings Event Center, Bell’s Brewery and Air Zoo Aerospace and Science Museum.

Janesville, Wisconsin

Janesville is located on the Rock River in scenic south-central Wisconsin. It is about an hour west of Madison and Milwaukee and about two hours north of Chicago. It is best known for its beautiful parks and trails, including the largest section of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, a 1,000-mile trail that travels through some of Wisconsin’s most beautiful natural areas.

The mid-size city of 66,000 people is also home to Rotary Botanic Gardens, 13 historic districts, public art and a vibrant downtown filled with restaurants and shops.

Janesville has 12 hotels and 987 hotel rooms, including the Holiday Inn Express and Janesville Conference Center, TownePlace Suites by Marriott, Cobblestone Hotel and Suites and Hampton Inn. The city is taking conference reservations for the new Woodman’s Sports and Convention Center, which will open in 2025 with 20,000 square feet of meeting space and easy access to hotels, dining and entertainment.

Janesville Conference Center has 15,000 square feet of venue space that can host 800 people for a banquet. It features soundproof movable partitions to create different size meeting and event spaces. The Rotary Botanical Gardens offers indoor meeting space for up to 250 guests, and meeting groups can take group tours of the gardens as part of their events.

Other meeting venues include Rock County Historical Society and The Venue, a 5,000-square-foot combined meeting, exhibit, event and banquet space that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

St. Joseph, Missouri

During the westward expansion era, St. Joseph, Missouri, was as far west as the railroad went. For that reason, it became the place many people came to either establish themselves in business or to outfit wagons for trips to claim their own destinies out west. Many entrepreneurs came from the East via railroad and made their wealth selling items that folks would need on their journey, from Stetson hats and Studebaker wagons to Quaker Oats and Saltine crackers. It is also where the Pony Express was founded in 1860 to speed up mail delivery using a series of fast horses and waystations.

Visitors to St. Joseph can see where the Pony Express got its start or visit the home where infamous outlaw Jesse James was shot and killed. The city is a cultural destination as well, with 13 museums, 12 annual festivals and plenty of historic architecture to admire. The Kansas City Chiefs Summer Training Camp is also in the area.

The city has 800 hotel rooms and a handful of new hotels in the works. Stoney Creek Hotel is the city’s only full-service meeting hotel, with 129 rooms and 9,282 square feet of meeting space that can host events of up to 300 people. Missouri Western State University has 1,000 available beds and many meeting venues to choose from. St. Joseph Civic Arena has 40,000 square feet of meeting space for events up to 5,000 people.

The Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art can accommodate 150 to 300 guests for an off-site event. The Missouri Theater, a historic cinema built in 1927 in the Art Deco and Moorish style, can host groups of 900.

Lenexa, Kansas

Lenexa is a city of 60,000 people on the Kansas side of the Kansas City metro area. Its city center is home to Lenexa Public Market, which features food, shopping and coffee and an outdoor area that is a popular gathering spot for outdoor events. The market is part of the Civic Campus at Lenexa City Center, which includes City Hall, Lenexa Rec Center, the outdoor seasonal farmers market and Lenexa City Center Library.

Many of the city’s newest hotels are in the City Center, including Hyatt Place, which is attached to the Lenexa Conference Center.

The Hyatt has 127 guest rooms and nearly 12,000 square feet of meeting space, the largest of which is 6,928 square feet. Radisson Hotel Lenexa Overland Park is the largest hotel in the city, with 18,000 square feet of meeting space. Its largest meeting room can hold more than 900 people.

Springhill Suites Kansas City Lenexa/City Center has two event rooms. Its largest space can host groups of 100 theater-style. The city is also getting ready to build a Residence Inn and AC Marriott, which will share a lobby.

Meeting planners hosting events in Lenexa have easy access to both Overland Park and Kansas City attractions, but Lenexa is famous for its festivals, including the Great Lenexa BBQ Battle, which attracts 30,000 visitors annually. The Lenexa Spinach Festival commemorates the city’s history as the Spinach Capital of the World in the 1930s. The event offers food, music and entertainment, and art and antique vendors.

Muncie, Indiana

Known for Ball State University, mild-mannered public television painter Bob Ross and Garfield comics creator Jim Davis, Muncie, Indiana, owes much of its success to the Ball family, which moved their Ball mason jar glass manufacturing business to the city in 1887.

Many of the top attractions in the city were either owned by the Ball family or funded by philanthropic organizations started by the Ball family.

Minnetrista Museum and Gardens is one of the biggest attractions in Muncie. The museum is located on the property where the Ball family lived, and visitors can walk past many of the original Ball family homes, some of which are open to the public for various programs or events. Groups will enjoy the Bob Ross Experience, a museum inside the restored television studio where he filmed his famous PBS show “The Joy of Painting.” A gallery at the museum highlights Ross’ paintings, and a painting workshop teaches groups and individuals Ross’ signature wet-on-wet painting technique.

Fans of Garfield, the mischievous orange feline created by Jim Davis, can follow the Garfield Statue Trail through town.

The city has more than 800 hotel rooms. The full-service Horizon Convention Center can host up to 1,200 attendees. The center is in Muncie’s historic hospitality district downtown, which features a variety of restaurants, pubs, shops and entertainment venues. The Courtyard by Marriott is attached to the convention center and has 150 rooms. Ball State University’s Student Center can host meetings or events and also has a small hotel with 24 guest rooms.