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Illinois: Towns are small but plans are large

Courtesy Chicago Southland CVB

In the Land of Lincoln, smaller cities and towns are sprucing up their facilities and attractions, making sure to put their best face forward for meetings and conventions.

Chicago Southland
With groups like the 600-person Illinois Science Teachers Association booked this fall, the newly expanded Tinley Park Convention Center is bringing large-scale meetings to Chicago Southland, a region that encompasses 62 south and southwest suburbs.

“When this $22 million expansion was completed in June, it doubled the center’s contiguous exposition space to 58,000 square feet,” said Mary Patchin, director of sales, Chicago Southland CVB. “We can now accommodate 5,000 for meetings, and we know this will help increase our meetings and convention business.

“There are also 1,500 free parking spaces, and the location, just 30 minutes from downtown off I-80, makes the Tinley Park Convention Center very convenient for planners looking for downtown alternatives.”

The corporations, associations and SMERF (social, military, education, reunion and fraternal) groups that meet at the convention center often stay at the attached 202-room Holiday Inn Hotel Tinley Park. Overall, Chicago Southland has some 6,000 hotel rooms at properties that include the 193-room Doubletree by Hilton Chicago/Alsip, the 184-room Hilton Chicago/Oak Lawn and the 159-room Comfort Inn Orland Hills.

In addition to its proximity to Midway and O’Hare international airports, Chicago Southland is home to the newly renovated, high-end Orland Square Mall in Orland Park and the Irons Oaks Environmental Learning Center in Olympia Fields, one of the top team-building sites in the Midwest.

“We also have space for 8,000-person events at Toyota Park, a 20,000-seat soccer facility in Bridgeview,” said Bob Lukens, the CVB’s public relations manager.


DuPage County
This high-tech corridor 20 minutes west of downtown Chicago is constantly improving its upscale facilities and amenities to keep up with the many corporate movers and shakers headquartered there.

“We have 17,000 hotel rooms, and our newest hotel, the Chicago Marriott Naperville, will open in March 2012 with 425 rooms and 26,000 square feet of meeting space,” said Beth Marchetti, director of development, DuPage County CVB, Oak Brook. “It will be located off I-88, making it convenient to western DuPage.”

DuPage County already has 2 million square feet of meeting space, including seven certified International Association of Conference Centers. Among them are the newly renovated Oak Brook Hills Marriott Resort, with 386 rooms and 42,500 square feet of meeting space, and two St. Charles properties: the 1,042-room Q Center, with 150,000 square feet of meeting space, and the 22,000-square-foot Advanced Center for Training at Pheasant Run Resort.

The 473-room Pheasant Run has over 120,000 square feet of meeting space as well as  several facilities, including the 25,000-square-foot DuPage Expo Center. It is also one of four full-service golf resorts in DuPage County, the most in any Chicago county.

“We also have brand-new meeting space, two restaurants and a six-room boutique hotel that all opened last month as part of the College of DuPage’s $25 million Culinary and Hospitality Center,” she said. “This new teaching facility will also train professionals to work in our area’s growing hospitality industry.”


Quad Cities
A bright orange, big-windowed bus called the Loop is the newest way for meeting groups to travel to downtown attractions and venues in the Quad Cities — Bettendorf and East Davenport/Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline, Ill.

“The new Loop riverfront circulator, which travels Thursday through Sunday along the Mississippi River for $1 per trip, is great for a progressive dinner or pub crawl, or for groups to travel to receptions and off-site events,” said Lynn Hunt, vice president of sales, Quad Cities CVB.

Groups can jump off the bus in Rock Island at The Speakeasy, a new 130-person entertainment facility near the city’s new downtown Schwiebert Riverfront Park. The park also has outdoor reception space and a 3,000-square-foot performance area.

There are 5,800 hotel rooms in the five cities, among them the 175-room Holiday Inn Rock Island, which is now under renovation.

“Our newest hotel is circa-1915 Hotel Blackhawk in downtown Davenport, which reopened in November as a 130-room Preferred Hotel member after a $45 million renovation,” said Hunt. “It is adjacent to the RiverCenter, which has 100,000 square feet of meeting space, as well as the historic 2,400-seat Adler Theatre and the 221-room Radisson Quad City Plaza.

“We recently began marketing these four RiverCenter properties as the Quad Cities Event Center,” she said. “They create a connected 351-room complex, and planners can use what they need from each facility. It makes us more attractive to meeting groups of up to 500.”

Groups can also take the Loop to the new Bettendorf Quad Cities Waterfront Center, which has 24,000 square feet of meeting space and is connected to the 514-room Isle Casino Hotel.


A new bier garden, a golf course and a 25,000-gallon aquarium are the icing on the cake for meeting planners who are impressed with Peoria’s new and renovated meeting and hotel facilities.

“We have so much happening, including the rebranding of our downtown Holiday Inn City Centre into a 319-room Four Points by Sheraton,” said Leslie Williams, communications and media relations manager, Peoria Area CVB. “It has 20,000 square feet of meeting space for 1,800 and will remain open during propertywide renovations scheduled for completion in the next 12 to 16 months.”

The newest site for leisure time or off-site events in this north-central Illinois town of 115,000 is the Bass Pro Shop, which opened this month in East Peoria opposite Riverfront Park.

In addition to a private meeting room for 40 and a dining patio overlooking the Illinois River, the Bass Pro Shop has a restaurant, a bowling alley and an aquarium filled with native Illinois fish.

“We also have a new golf and banquet facility called Metamora Fields in Metamora with an 18-hole, championship golf course and a 25,000-square-foot clubhouse that includes banquet seating for 400,” Williams said.

Everything from soccer tournaments to 5,000-person events can be held at the newly remodeled, 75,000-square-foot Avanti’s Dome in the nearby town of Pekin. Its banquet center can accommodate 225 people; a new bier garden has room for 50.

A draw for associations, religious groups and sporting events, Peoria has more than 4,000 hotel rooms. Among its larger meeting venues are the Peoria Civic Center, the historic Hotel Pere Marquette and the Embassy Suites in East Peoria.


It’s perfectly normal that meeting groups flock to the sister cities of Bloomington-Normal, a 165,000-person metropolitan area in central Illinois.

The cities are home to Illinois State University (ISU) as well as the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, the only Four Diamond AAA-rated hotel between Chicago and St. Louis.

“The new 228-room hotel is stunning, with 23,000 square feet of meeting space as well as two concierge floors,” said Megan Rolfs, convention marketing  manager, Bloomington-Normal Area CVB. “It is also attached to the Normal Theatre, a renovated 1937 Art Deco venue with seating for 350.”

Located next to 21,000-student ISU, the hotel is part of the redevelopment of Uptown Normal, which includes a new children’s museum as well as restaurants and shops. In mid-2012, a 65,000-square-foot multimodal transportation center will open in the area to house the cities’ Amtrak service, taxis and buses.

Arriving in Bloomington-Normal is also easy by car, as the twin cities are located on interstates 39, 55 and 74 about two hours from Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis.

However meeting groups arrive, they find 3,500 hotel rooms in addition to facilities that include the 7,800-seat U.S. Cellular Coliseum in downtown Bloomington and the newly rebranded 197-room Doubletree by Hilton, with 15,000 square feet of meeting space.

“We also work hand in hand with ISU to provide meeting planners with facilities that include the Bone Student Center, which has 14,500 square feet of meeting space, as well as the 3,483-seat Braden Auditorium,” said Rolfs.

German wines are the attraction at White Oak Vineyards in Carlock, a new venue for 40-person indoor receptions  and larger outdoor tented events.


Champaign-Champaign County

The Champaign County CVB makes meeting planners feel at home with its new downtown Champaign Welcome Center.

Meeting planners who visit will learn that the sister cities of Champaign-Urbana have some 3,500 hotel rooms, including two new limited-service hotels, the 86-room Comfort Suites in Urbana and the 83-room Candlewood Suites in Champaign.

The cities are perhaps best known as the home of the 42,000-student University of Illinois (U of I), which offers meeting facilities such as the Illini Union Hotel and Conference Center, with 74 rooms and 29,000 square feet of meeting space.

The university is also home to the Colonnades Club at Memorial Stadium, with banquet capacity for 500. The
I Hotel and Conference Center, with 126 rooms and 20,776 square feet of meeting space, is adjacent to campus.

“Many meeting planners want to bring conferences here, as they can work with U of I researchers and professors to coordinate conference speakers, or hold off-site tours of departments or research facilities,” said Cory Hatfield, sales director, Champaign County CVB.

These central Illinois cities near interstates 57, 74 and 72 also draw association, agricultural and government meetings, such as the Illinois Department of Transportation’s upcoming Fall Planning Conference this September.

“We will bring about 100 people to the 99-room Hilton Garden Inn and Conference Center for a two-day meeting that will include tours of local transportation facilities and dinners at some of the cities’ great restaurants,” said Susan Stitt, planning services section chief for the Illinois Department of Transportation in Springfield.