Indiana’s small towns offer big opportunities for meetings.
More than just flyover country, the Hoosier State is rich in towns with distinctive flavor and plenty of appeal for visitors and meeting planners. Here are five smaller towns in Indiana that offer many of the amenities that larger cities have but with a dollop of Midwest charm and hospitality thrown in for free.
Evansville, located along the Ohio River, is known for its three universities. It also has a thriving entertainment and craft beer scene, with five local breweries, craft cocktail houses and live gaming at Bally’s Casino. One of its most famous attractions is Angel Mounds State Historic Site, one of the best-preserved prehistoric Native American mound sites in the country.
Meeting planners have their pick of event spaces. Old National Events Plaza is the city’s main convention center, with 95,000 square feet of event space. It is close to more than 800 hotel rooms, as well as plenty of restaurants and shops. The DoubleTree by Hilton is connected to the Events Plaza and Ford Center via a skybridge and is a 241-room full-service hotel with 12,000 square feet of banquet and meeting space. Nearby Indiana University School of Medicine has many state-of-the-art meeting spaces.
Ford Center, a multi-purpose, 290,000-square-foot arena, can host exhibitions, sporting events and conferences, and nearby Bally’s Evansville has 338 hotel rooms, more than 10,800 square feet of interior event space and more than 30,500 square feet of outdoor event space.
The University of Evansville has meeting spaces that can accommodate groups up to 482, including Shanklin Theatre, Wheeler Concert Hall and the Schroeder School of Business Atrium.
The home of Purdue University, Lafayette is just one hour’s drive north of Indianapolis and two hours’ south of Chicago. Downtown has delectable restaurants, art galleries, museums, coffee shops, nightlife and entertainment, and plenty of public art to explore. There are four hotels, including Courtyard by Marriott Lafayette, which can host 310 people for a banquet in the Lafayette Grand Ballroom or up to 450 people on one of its three outdoor patios. It also has several smaller meeting spaces.
Purdue University has several meeting venues worth considering. The Stewart Center can host groups up to 1,000, and the Purdue Memorial Union has several rooms that can accommodate up to 700 people theater-style. The Loeb Playhouse and Elliott Hall of Music are two among several theater venues, inside and outside, on campus.
New meeting venues include Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds and Event Center, Loeb Stadium, Convergence Center and a Drury Inn and Suites. The Event Center at the fairgrounds has 82,500 square feet of space. Its 20,000-square-foot coliseum can seat 1,700 in retractable bleacher seats, and the facility is large enough to host 387 exhibitors for a trade show. Loeb Stadium, a new baseball stadium, can be used for corporate picnics or receptions, while Carr Workplaces Convergence at Purdue has event space that can accommodate groups of 30 to 200 people. The Drury Inn has 138 guest rooms and four meeting rooms that can host groups of more than 100 people.
Bloomington is located within a four-hour drive of Chicago; Nashville, Tennessee; St. Louis; and Columbus, Ohio; and is only an eight-hour drive from 50% of the U.S. population, making it a strategic destination for meeting planners. The city, although small, has a variety of impressive amenities, including Indiana University Bloomington.
Monroe Lake and two other recreational lakes surround the city, offering the opportunity to enjoy nature by kayaking, paddleboarding, fishing or renting a pontoon boat for the day. Bloomington has 350 restaurants and locally owned shops and many live music venues.
The Monroe Convention Center downtown is the largest meeting venue in town, with 24,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. There are several hotels within walking distance of the center, including Hyatt Place, Springhill Suites, Hilton Garden Inn and Courtyard by Marriott. The downtown area has about 800 hotel rooms in total. The Indiana Memorial Union on campus has more than 50,000 square feet of flexible meeting space and 187 hotel rooms. Four Winds Lakeside Inn and Marina is an offsite venue on the shores of Monroe Lake, which is Indiana’s largest inland lake. It can host groups of 200 people and is about 20 minutes from downtown Bloomington.
Groups that host meetings at that facility can rent a double-decker pontoon boat for a happy hour or sunset cruise.
South Bend is best known as the home the University of Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish, but the city is much more than just a college town. It has some first-class attractions, including the Potawatomi Zoo and the Studebaker National Museum. Howard Park recently was revamped with a 16,000-square-foot ice trail and pond for ice skating and a large outdoor lawn and natural amphitheater for large outdoor events.
The East Race Waterway downtown is one of the city’s top attractions. Groups wanting to add a bit of excitement to their meetings or events can try their hand at whitewater rafting down Class II rapids.
Century Center is South Bend’s main convention venue, with 100,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. It is connected via skywalk to the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel South Bend and is close to Aloft South Bend and Courtyard by Marriott. Combined, the hotels have more than 600 guest rooms, and both the DoubleTree and Aloft have meeting space.
The Gillespie Conference Center on the west side of town has 16,000 square feet of meeting space and is connected to a Hilton Garden Inn and the Inn at St. Mary’s, with a combined 250 guest rooms. Groups may want to tour Notre Dame’s campus in their free time, including the football stadium and Basilica of the Sacred Heart. The campus has several meeting venues, including a ballroom overlooking the football field, McKenna Hall and the Morris Inn.
Fort Wayne has invested a lot of money improving its riverfront district over the past few years. Promenade Park on the Riverfront encapsulates the city’s three rivers, the St. Marys, St. Joseph and Maumee. Trails along the water, a tree-top canopy trail, riverboat cruises and kayaking are just some of the adventures that await visitors to the area.
The city boasts several popular attractions. Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory is across the street from the Grand Wayne Convention Center and features lush gardens, tropical palms and a Sonoran Desert environment.
The historic Embassy Theatre nearby presents national Broadway theater productions, concerts and cinema. Science Central is a science museum with more than 200 permanent exhibits and national touring exhibitions in a restored 1929 electric utility plant.
Sports fans will enjoy a visit to Parkview Field, home of the Fort Wayne TinCaps, a single-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres. It has 8,000 seats, 16 luxury suites and 11,000 square feet of event space.
The Grand Wayne Convention Center has 225,000 square feet of meeting space and is connected to three full-service hotels: Hilton Fort Wayne, Courtyard by Marriott, and Hampton Inn and Suites. Allen County War Memorial Coliseum has three venues under one roof, with 108,000 square feet of customizable exhibition space, plus 40,000 square feet in additional space, a 27,000-square-foot conference center and a 13,000-seat arena.
The Bradley Hotel, which just opened in 2021, is a 124-room boutique hotel just blocks away from the convention center. It has three event spaces and two on-site restaurants.