Convention centers and conference hotels offer plenty of function space and flexible meeting rooms.
They don’t provide 12-foot-tall Tesla coils and can’t give people the opportunity to walk on 390 million-year-old fossil beds.
To get attendees out of the same spaces and into one-of-a-kind venues, planners arranging meetings in America’s Heartland can hold events in a working train station or a limestone castle, at the only standalone presidential library in the country or at one of only 11 NASA visitor centers in the nation.
Great Lakes Science Center
Not every venue allows groups to form a human chain of electricity or drop an egg from 80 feet up, but Cleveland’s Great Lakes Science Center can make visitors of any age feel like they’re in eighth grade again.
Groups can use the Science Phenomenon gallery, with more than 100 interactive exhibits; Reinberger Hall, the center’s temporary exhibit space; and NASA Glenn Visitor Center, one of only 11 NASA visitors’ centers in the country.
The most popular event space is the promenade level, with 80-foot-tall windows looking out onto Lake Erie, said sales and special events manager Kristy Papson. Reinberger Auditorium can seat 200 people, and groups can also reserve the center’s outdoor deck or front lawn. For sit-down functions, the center can accommodate about 400 people; but up to 4,000 guests can be in the center during mix-and-mingle events.
The center offers a wide variety of science-centered programs and team-building activities, the most popular of which is the egg drop challenge, Papson said. Each team builds a device that will protect an egg during an 80-foot drop from the mezzanine level.
The center offers several science shows, and planners can arrange one as part of their private event. “Lift Off” explores the science of rockets and propulsion, tying into the NASA Glenn Visitor Center exhibits and artifacts, and “It’s Electric” features a 12-foot Tesla coil.
“We can bring participants up out of the audience, and they make a human chain of conductivity to feel the electricity course through them,” director of communications Joe Yachanin said.
St. Paul, Minnesota
Union Depot in St. Paul, Minnesota, is first and foremost a transit and transportation hub, handling hundreds of bus, train and light-rail passengers every day. But the enormous historic building is also an event venue with striking spaces and private rooms available to groups. The original depot burned down in 1915; although construction on the existing depot began two years later, it wasn’t complete until 1923 because work was halted during World War I.
In addition to RiverCentre, Union Depot is the only other downtown venue that can handle large events, said marketing manager Tina Volpe. The entire facility covers about 250,000 square feet; of that, the waiting room covers 21,000 square feet, making it the largest event space. The restored room has barrel-vaulted, 50-foot-high ceilings with skylights and can seat up to 1,200 people for banquets. Organizers can use pipe and drape and security personnel to hold private events in the public area, and staff will arrange for passengers to wait in other areas during functions.
The depot also offers several private spaces. On the second floor, the 3,000-square-foot Red Cap Room and the 2,000-square-foot Veterans Gallery offer views of downtown and the Mississippi River, as does a new 20-person boardroom. The Gateway Conference room can seat 48 people in a classroom setup, and planners can use two outdoor plazas for cocktail hours, live music, and food or microbrewery booths.
Depot staff can also help organizers arrange special-event excursion trains with Amtrak or private charters on the Railroading Heritage of Midwest America’s historic passenger cars.