Courtesy Visit South Bend-Mishawaka
South Bend, home of Notre Dame, also considers its university a major selling point.
“From a sales standpoint, it is great for the name recognition,” said Carolyne Wallace, director of sales for Visit South Bend-Mishawaka. “A problem with being a smaller market is that people are not familiar with the area,” said Wallace. “Not everyone knows South Bend, but in our region — the Midwest and the Great Lakes area — people know us. It gets our foot in the door. A smaller city is not a sexy city. It’s not Las Vegas or Orlando.”
South Bend, 90 miles east of Chicago, is home to more than 100,000, including 8,000 undergraduates. It promotes “two distinct convention districts — three great facilities.”
For large groups, the Century Center is a good choice. Its 75,000 square feet of meeting space is attached to the 292-room DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel South Bend by an enclosed, climate-controlled skywalk. But now, it is not the only choice.
“For a number of years, all we could offer was the Century Center,” said Wallace. “Three to four years ago, Notre Dame became more open to having outside groups meet there and at the Gillespie Center on the St. Mary’s campus, across the street.”
The 15,000-square-foot Gillespie Conference Center is popular for retreats. It is connected to the 150-room Inn at Saint Mary’s and the 100-room Hilton Garden Inn South Bend.
For a group of 350 or fewer that seeks an academic setting, Notre Dame is the place.
The Notre Dame Conference Center is connected to the Morris Inn, a 149-room hotel that will become a 299-room property when a $43 million addition is completed in August. Also being added are a ballroom and dining rooms. Existing conference spaces will be updated.
“It is the largest ongoing hotel project in the state at the moment, not by capacity but by investments,” said Wallace.
In the summer, meetings are also held at Bethel College in Mishawaka, a town that flows into South Bend.
At some point, nearly all visitors to South Bend visit Notre Dame, said Wallace.
“They can take guided tours or roam the campus, but they want to see the golden dome that they see on TV. Everyone has heard about Notre Dame, which is steeped in tradition.”