School spirit abounds in the Sunflower State.
Meeting groups looking to revisit their college glory days will find everything they could want in these five Kansas college towns, from full-service hotels and on-campus meeting venues to the chance to cheer on college sports teams, take campus tours and see major historical and cultural attractions.
Washburn University is centrally located in Topeka, and its dynamic College Hill area is a popular destination for those seeking coffee shops and fine dining. It is a short drive from campus to downtown, and the university and city work closely to build town-and-gown relations. The campus has its own attractions, including the Mulvane Art Museum and Mulvane Court, a small sculpture garden, with 30 permanent sculptures and murals on its grounds. It also has beautiful ballrooms and meeting spaces.
Between the university and downtown, the Hotel Topeka at City Center has 224 guest rooms, more than any other Topeka hotel, and 28,000 square feet of meeting space. It is connected to the Stormont Vail Events Center and its 66,000 square feet of meeting space. The Ramada by Wyndham Topeka Downtown Hotel and Convention Center’s 27,000 square feet of meeting space accommodate up to 3,100 for conferences.
Other meeting venues include the Topeka Zoo and the Kay McFarland Japanese Garden and Venue, both of which have event spaces and offer private tours and the Beacon, a former women’s club with two ballrooms and a theater that seats 400. National Park Service tours of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Park open eyes to the importance of this landmark decision to end racial segregation. And although Evel Knievel didn’t grow up in Topeka, the world’s largest collection of the daredevil’s memorabilia landed here, which makes the Evel Knievel Museum a worthwhile stop.
Kansas State University is one of Manhattan’s anchors — along with the U.S. Army’s Fort Riley — and a growth engine for the community. KSU’s team color is purple, so adding team spirit to a meeting can mean hanging out with “purple people” at a K-State sporting event or taking a campus tour.
On campus, meeting spaces include the Alumni Center, for receptions of 750 or banquets of up to 480. Several smaller conference rooms are available. The K-State Student Union is massive, and within its 250,000 square feet are 32 meeting rooms as well as an outdoor, 90,000-square-foot plaza for events.
Not far from campus, the Hilton Garden Inn Manhattan Hotel and Conference Center has 25,500 square feet of flexible meeting space and 135 guest rooms. Other nearby full-service hotels include Four Points by Sheraton, Holiday Inn at the Campus and Bluemont Hotel.
Beyond hotel ballrooms, the Flint Hills Discovery Center, a museum that offers a closeup look at the area’s tallgrass prairie ecosystem, welcomes meetings. Tours of the tallgrass can be part of any event. At the Midwest Dream Car Collection up to 200 people can mingle among the more than 65 cars on display at receptions. Downtown Manhattan and Aggieville, on the edge of campus, are walkable shopping districts with local stores and restaurants.
Home of the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University, Lawrence is a major attraction for anyone who loves college sports. James Naismith, who invented basketball, devised the original rules for the sport and founded the Jayhawks’ basketball program. The KU campus is home to the Spencer Museum of Art, KU Natural History Museum and the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics, which contains not only Bob Dole’s archives, but beams from the World Trade Center in New York.
Groups can book Allen Fieldhouse, the indoor arena that’s home to the KU basketball, or have their events at the school’s Kansas Union or Lied Center of Kansas. During football season, groups can enjoy tailgating or have school mascots or the cheer squad perform at their events.
Groups can also stay on campus at the 99-guest room Oread hotel, which has meeting space for up to 600 people and a Fifth Floor Terrace for receptions of 750. Minutes from KU, the Doubletree by Hilton has 192 guest rooms and more than 14,000 square feet of meeting space.
Off campus, Lawrence’s crown jewel is Massachusetts Street, with its boutiques, eateries, coffee shops and live music.
Home to Fort Hays State University, Hays has a wonderful arts scene and a vibrant downtown full of boutiques and restaurants. One of its biggest attractions is Fort Hays State Historic Site, a military outpost first established on the Smoky Hill Trail in 1865. It moved south of Hays after the original fort was destroyed by a flash flood in 1867.
Self-guided or guided tours of the fort delve into how a Plains fort operated and how military personnel interacted with the Plains Indians. Other attractions in Hays include the Sternberg Museum of Natural History on campus and the Bricks, a downtown district known for shopping and craft beer.
The Hilton Garden Inn and Convention Center is one of the largest event venues in Hays, with 100 guest rooms and 7,800 square feet of meeting space. Its grand ballroom can seat 400 guests. The Strand, an historic theater built in 1917, is now a Main Street meeting venue for up to 250. An elegant event space called The Venue is connected to Thirsty’s Brew Pub and Grill and has a banquet hall for 100. There is no rental fee if the group purchases food there.
The university also has several meeting and event options, including Gross Memorial Coliseum, Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center and the Fort Hays Ballroom in the Memorial Union.
Education and sports thrive in Wichita, with Wichita State University, Newman University and Friends University all located within the city limits. Sports fans can cheer on the Shockers, Jets and Falcons, the Wichita Thunder ice hockey team and the Wichita Wind Surge, a Double-A baseball affiliate of the Minnesota Twins.
Vibrant public art brightens multiple downtown districts and a collection of six museums, known as Museums on the River, keep visitors engaged. The museums are an eclectic mix: Botanica Wichita, Old Cowtown Museum, Exploration Place, Mid-America All-Indian Museum, Wichita Art Museum and Wichita Baseball Museum.
The Century II Performing Arts and Convention Center’s 200,000 square feet of exhibition space is conveniently connected to the Hyatt Regency Wichita, which has 303 guest rooms and 40,248 square feet of meeting space. About five blocks away, the INTRUST Bank Arena can seat 15,000 people. Wichita State University’s meeting spaces can accommodate larger groups, and meeting-goers are welcomed at sporting events or on campus tours. They can also visit the Original Pizza Hut Museum, which tells the story of two WSU students who founded the company in 1958.
Other full-service hotels include Ambassador Hotel Autograph Collection, DoubleTree by Hilton Wichita Airport and Wichita Marriott Hotel.
Two attractions, the Sedgwick County Zoo or Tanganyika Wildlife Park, are known for educating visitors about the exotic animals they protect. Outdoor enthusiasts can rent kayaks, pedal boats or scooters along the Arkansas River. Architecture fans will want to tour the Frank Lloyd Wright Allen House and the Corbin Center at WSU, also designed by Wright.