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Indiana’s Sunny Suburbs

Somewhere along the way, probably in the ’90s, the suburbs got a bad rap.

Pop culture painted them blah, boring and beige. But the outer edges of major metropolises are a veritable playground for meeting planners and their attendees. These Indiana suburbs are not only close to the big-city amenities of Indianapolis, Louisville and Chicago, but also offer small-town prices, a plethora of event venues and plenty of attractions for groups.

Hendricks County

In Hendricks County, 10 miles west of downtown Indianapolis, the big news is the newest addition: a new $25 million hotel and conference center located on Interstate 70 in Plainfield. Construction will begin this fall and be complete in 2018. When it opens, the 175-room Embassy Suites will include an on-site restaurant and 5,000 square feet of meeting space in the hotel, which will be attached to a 20,000-square-foot conference center. When it opens, it will be one of the county’s two largest conference spaces, said Becky Harris, director of sales for Visit Hendricks County.

The other is the 110-acre Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds and Conference Complex that’s “not typically what you think of when you hear ‘fairgrounds,’” she said. “It’s a really nice facility that’s unique because you have indoor-outdoor capabilities.” The 33,000-square-foot Conference Center has more than a dozen conference rooms, an 11,000-square-foot auditorium and a 16,000-square-foot hall. The historic Cartlidge Barn, which was relocated to the property, is popular for banquets and receptions for 80 guests — up to 150 with an adjoining canopy — and comes with a popcorn machine and fire pits.

Hamilton County

On the map, Hamilton County’s four major cities form a rough square due north of Indianapolis: Westfield, Noblesville, Fishers and Carmel, which has the most name recognition after Money magazine named it the No. 1 place to live in 2012. It came in third in 2014.

“We have a lot going on around here,” said Kate Burkhardt, communications coordinator for Hamilton County Tourism.

That includes a new Drury Plaza opening this month with nine meeting rooms totaling more than 7,000 square feet, including two ballrooms. A 198-room Embassy Suites hotel and conference center is slated to open in Noblesville in 2018 with 20,000 square feet of conference space and 5,000 square feet of meeting space.

Two Carmel event centers have been reimagined. Black Iris Estate, formerly Oak Hill Mansion, opened under new ownership in April following extensive renovations, and the 22,000-square-foot 502 East Event Centre opened in late 2014 at The Fountains former location.

Conner Prairie interactive history park will be opening a tree house experience — think Swiss Family Robinson — in July and holds summer evening concerts at its amphitheater. Strawtown Koteewi Park unveiled its aerial ropes course in May and will soon add horseback riding.

South Shore

A 30-minute drive from downtown Chicago, around the southernmost curve of Lake Michigan, Indiana’s South Shore is home to more than 30 communities that range from sleepy towns to casino cities, with Gary and its 80,000 residents as the region’s anchor.

Four casinos offer meeting space in addition to restaurants, spas and gaming. Majestic Star Casino and Hotel’s 4,000-square-foot, climate-controlled Sky Deck delivers views of Lake Michigan during seated dinners for up to 200. The 288-room Ameristar Casino Hotel has a 5,400-square-foot event room that can be halved. Blue Chip Casino, Hotel and Spa boasts the 20,000-square-foot Stardust Event Center, and Horseshoe Hammond has six flexible function spaces that total 100,000 square feet.

The region has a variety of convention hotels, and one of the largest is the 343-room Radisson at Star Plaza in Merrillville. The hotel’s 19 flexible meeting rooms total 30,000 square feet, and the neighboring 37,000-square-foot Star Plaza Theatre is available for groups of up to 3,400.

To sample the region’s rural ambiance, the South Shore Wine Trail highlights several wineries, vineyards and a cidery, and groups can pick their own apples, eat apple-spiced doughnuts, and hold a dinner or a reception at County Line Orchard in Hobart.

Jeffersonville/Clark and Floyd Counties

Jeffersonville, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky, are almost like two sides of the same city split by the Ohio River. With nearly 50,000 residents, Jeffersonville is the largest city in Clark County, and its largest meeting space is the Clarion Hotel Conference Center, with 356 guest rooms and 10 conference rooms, including a 4,600-square-foot ballroom. The Sheraton Louisville Riverside Hotel sits near the foot of the metal-trussed Clark Memorial Bridge in Jeffersonville. The 180-room property offers nearly 7,500 square feet of flexible function space, including a 3,600-square-foot ballroom.

At Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville, groups can view 390 million-year-old exposed Devonian fossil beds. The park’s Interpretative Center reopened in January following a $6 million, yearlong renovation that installed new interactive exhibits and revamped the theater. Groups can rent the entire center or book two semipublic spaces that can accommodate 30 to 40 people, as well as arrange guided hikes and canoe trips.

The Floyd County Brewing Co. opened in New Albany last fall, the region’s fourth brewery to open in two years, according to the Clark-Floyd Counties Convention-Tourism Bureau.