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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Heartland College Towns

America’s Heartland is full of wonderful college towns that are great places not only to visit but also to host meetings or events. Here are a few centrally located destinations in the Midwest that have everything a meeting planner could want, from full-service hotels and prime meeting spaces to a dash of team spirit.


Madison, Wisconsin

Madison, Wisconsin, is uniquely placed on a narrow strip of land between two of the area’s five lakes, Lake Mendota and Lake Monona, and is an outdoor lover’s paradise. Visitors have access to more than 200 miles of hiking and biking trails, or they can spend their time boating, swimming or paddleboarding. The University of Wisconsin-Madison is connected to the state Capitol via the city’s main pedestrian thoroughfare, State Street.

There’s plenty of shopping, as well as world-class restaurants and cultural experiences, such as the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art; the Olbrich Botanical Gardens; the Henry Vilas Zoo; and Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home. The Capitol is open to the public and offers free tours. 

Madison has more than 10,000 guest rooms and nearly 750,000 square feet of meeting space, including the Memorial Union, the Pyle Center and the Union South buildings on campus.

Two of the city’s top meeting venues are the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, with its 129,530 square feet of space overlooking Lake Monona, and the Alliant Energy Center, with its 150,000 square feet of space for conventions, sporting events and agriculture and livestock shows. 

The Hilton Madison Monona Terrace is connected to Monona Terrace, and the Madison Marriott West has 292 guest rooms and 61,017 square feet of meeting space. Other full-service hotels include the Madison Concourse Hotel and Governor’s Club, the Sheraton Madison Hotel, the Edgewater Hotel and the Best Western Premier Park Hotel.

Iowa City, Iowa

The University of Iowa campus seamlessly blends with Iowa City, from its many attractions and sporting events to the shopping, dining and bar scene. When the school’s football team plays a home game, every hotel in the city sells out. 

Meeting groups wanting to tap into that team spirit can take a tour of the stadium or campus or bring in the team’s mascot, Herky the Hawk, as a special guest at their meetings. Hancher Auditorium, known for touring Broadway shows, can seat 1,800 people. The campus facility also has other meeting spaces, including a rehearsal hall and two lobbies.

To learn more about the city’s history, attendees can tour the Iowa Old Capitol Building, which was built in 1842 and is now a centerpiece on the university campus. 

The city has more than 25 hotels with 5,000 hotel rooms. The Hyatt Regency Coralville Hotel and Conference Center is the largest convention space in town, with 286 guest rooms and 57,588 square feet of meeting space. It anchors Iowa River Landing, a 180-acre mixed-use development that sits on the Iowa River and is about a mile from campus. The property features retail and entertainment. The 5,100-seat Xtream Arena and 53,000-square-foot GreenState Family Fieldhouse can host groups of any size in both indoor and outdoor spaces.

The Englert Theatre, a former vaudeville theater downtown, and Celebration Farm offer unique meeting venues and experiences.

Ann Arbor, Michigan

Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan, is the consummate university town, with many of the city’s must-see attractions centered around campus, including Michigan Stadium, lovingly called the Big House, the university’s 107,601-seat football stadium. It also is known for its outdoor recreational opportunities, from plentiful golf courses to trails that are great for hiking, running, biking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The Huron River runs through the city and during the summer months is packed with canoes, kayaks and paddleboards.

The city has a robust arts and cultural scene with museums, art galleries and theaters. Four distinct districts in town offer shopping and more than 400 restaurants, many of them unique to Ann Arbor. There are more than 5,000 hotel rooms in the area, including five full-service hotels. Graduate Ann Arbor, a 204-room boutique hotel across the street from campus, has indoor and outdoor meeting spaces for up to 300 people. The Inn at the Michigan League is a small hotel in the University of Michigan student union. 

The Residence Inn Ann Arbor Downtown and the Bell Tower Hotel are both downtown and close to the university.

Prime meeting spots include Michigan Stadium; the Jack Roth Stadium Club, which overlooks the football field; and the campus golf course, which has a newly renovated clubhouse that is available for rent. 

Zingerman’s Greyline is a new event space downtown for groups of up to 200 people. Zingerman’s Cornman Farms offers more rustic venues in an old farmhouse and a barn and has outside spaces.

Charleston, Illinois

Eastern Illinois University has helped make Charleston a popular college town in Illinois for many years, in large part because the campus is right on Charleston’s main drag. Besides the university, the city is known for being home to the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Museum, which depicts all seven debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in their campaigns for the U.S. Senate. Lincoln aficionados will also want to visit the Lincoln Log Cabin Historic Site, which was the home of Lincoln’s father, Thomas Lincoln, and his stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln.

Charleston’s downtown is home to many historic buildings, including the courthouse. Murals depicting 1920s Charleston storefronts, Lincoln’s last journey to Charleston and Coles County Courthouse and Charleston Square in 1912 are a must-see for any visitor to the city.

Lake Charleston, just south of town, has more than 10 miles of hiking and biking trails that lead into Fox Ridge State Park. The Doudna Fine Arts Center, on campus, brings in music, theater, art and humanities events. 

The university has the largest meeting spaces available in Charleston, but the Unique Suites Hotel, with 77 guest rooms, also has banquet and meeting rooms large enough to seat 300-plus guests. The Days Inn by Wyndham has 51 rooms, and the McGrady Inn, a bed-and-breakfast in town, also has lodging available. Other hotels in nearby towns can handle any overflow for larger events held on campus.

Warrensburg, Missouri

Warrensburg, Missouri, is home to the University of Central Missouri {UCM). Its historic downtown is wonderfully preserved, including the original Johnson County Courthouse, which still looks as it did in the 1800s. The building is best known as the site of a Missouri Supreme Court case involving two brothers-in-law. One of the men killed the other man’s dog, Old Drum, and tried to lie about it. The dog’s owner took him to court and proved he killed the dog. The lawyer for the dog’s owner gave a heartfelt tribute to Old Drum, calling him man’s best friend. A statue of Old Drum sits in front of the current county courthouse and includes a plaque with the famous speech. 

Visitors to the area like to take selfies with Old Drum, visit Powell Gardens or tour the UCM campus.

Because UCM has students from all over the world, and Warrensburg is only seven miles from Whiteman Air Force Base, the town has more than 50 restaurants that cater to many different palates.

The Elliott Student Union on the UCM campus is the largest meeting facility in town with 19,000 square feet of space. It also has a bowling center, a cinema, a bookstore and a food court. UCM has several meeting and event spaces for up to 500 attendees. 

Off campus, Buckeye Acres, the Milestones Barn and the Knob Hill Barn 1892 all have meeting spaces and unique farm experiences for groups. Powell Gardens also makes a fun place for a meeting or reception.

The city has six hotels, and four of them have small meeting rooms, including the Holiday Inn Express and Suites Warrensburg North and the Fairfield Inn and Suites.