Rivers define much of Iowa: Most of the state’s western border follows the winding curves of the Missouri River, and the mighty Mississippi River separates the state from Illinois and Wisconsin on the east.
Plus, many of Iowa’s major cities sprang up on the shores of the rivers that continue to serve as lifelines for both commerce and culture.
On the opposite side of the state, Council Bluffs is a sister city to its larger sibling across the Missouri River: Omaha, Nebraska. Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park has 80 acres of both natural river habitat and developed public spaces, including an event lawn and an amphitheater. The park “is beautiful because it overlooks the Omaha skyline” as well as the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, a 3,000-foot span where visitors “can have one foot in one state and one in the other,” said Josee Beier, sales manager for the Council Bluffs Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Council Bluffs often partners with Omaha on large events, both for lodging and venues. The Caesars-managed Mid-America Center is the city’s primary convention venue, with nearly 64,000 square feet of meeting space that includes a 24,000-square-foot convention center and a 30,000-square-foot arena that can seat up to 9,000 guests. The Hilton Garden Inn has 5,500 square feet of flexible function space, and the 185-room Holiday Inn offers 6,000 square feet of flexible meeting and banquet space. The Ameristar Casino Hotel can accommodate 400-person events in its 6,600 square feet.
The new 100,000-square-foot Fieldhouse USA will open in December with 12 volleyball courts and eight full-size basketball courts; the facility will welcome corporate groups for social events and team-building activities.
In the heart of the city, Bayliss Park Hall is a Victorian mansion that sits across the street from Bayliss Park, and both are available for private parties.
Dubuque, Iowa, sits on the western banks of the Mississippi River, the dividing line between the Wisconsin-Illinois border to the east. The city’s motto is “Masterpiece on the Mississippi,” and “that’s really our story; we’ve gone through many revitalizations and renovations over the past 15 years,” said Julie Kronlage, vice president of sales for the Dubuque Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Located on the riverbanks, the 86,000-square-foot Grand River Center is the city’s largest event space. The 30,000-square-foot carpeted exhibit hall has drive-in capability, making it popular for events such as the Iowa Recycling and Solid Waste Management Conference and Trade Show, which will return in 2019. The center is attached to the 193-room Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark, Iowa’s first indoor water park. In downtown, Five Flags Center is a 25,000-square-foot multipurpose facility that has a 2,000-seat arena.
Dubuque has five full-service properties, each with event space. The Holiday Inn Dubuque is now redoing its 193 guest rooms and just finished the third phase of a renovation that included its 9,600 square feet of meeting space. Dating back to 1839, the Hotel Julien is the oldest hotel in the city but feels new after a $32 million renovation in 2009 that included its 14,000 square feet of function space. To enjoy the river, groups can meet at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, which sits on Dubuque Harbor, or board one of the local riverboats.