There are several important things to know about Kearney, Nebraska: It’s pronounced KAR-nee. It’s the Sandhill Crane Capital of the World. Agriculture is big here, as are group farm and manufacturing-plant tours. It’s home to the University of Nebraska Kearney. And this Midwestern city at the nation’s midpoint is superb at hosting meetings and events.
The reasons are myriad.
“We have a large amount of meeting space in a concentrated area,” said Sarah Focke, tourism and convention sales manager for the Kearney Visitors Bureau. “When you pull off the interstate, you’re right there and don’t have to find your way downtown like in a bigger city. Kearney’s easy to get around in, with the amenities of a large community.
“There’s surprisingly little staff turnaround citywide, so service is consistently stellar, with a welcoming, small-town feel. Our food is outstanding. We have daily air service to Denver. And most of our attractions are viable off-site venues.”
Two high-capacity venues are the Buffalo County Fairgrounds, which hosts trade shows, livestock and sporting events, and concerts in a 46,900-square-foot arena, and the 54,000-square-foot Viaero Event Center, home to the Tri-City Storm hockey team. Twenty luxury Skybox suites accommodate 10 to 25 people each.
The Museum of Nebraska Art tells the state’s story through paintings and sculpture, and can host up to 30 at a meeting, complete with a museum tour.
For six weeks every February through early March, 80 percent of the world’s sandhill crane population descends upon Nebraska’s Platte River during the cranes’ migration from southern wintering grounds to northern breeding grounds. Twenty minutes from Kearney, visitors can observe this breathtaking stopover from blinds and can hold meetings at the Iain Nicholson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary.
Two other venues guarantee fun. Mac’s Creek Vineyard has reception space for 400. And with two locations, Thunderhead Brewery has production site tours near Kearney and a restaurant and bar on The Bricks, as the town’s 100-year-old, brick-street downtown is fondly known.
“Kearney is affordable but competitive in that planners receive a great product for the price,” Focke said, “yet without parking issues. We’re a perfect drive-in location.”
Paul Younes is a hands-on owner who knows most of his clients on a first-name basis, not that he has a lot of spare time.
Younes Hospitality owns 14 properties in Nebraska, including seven hotels and a conference center in Kearney. There’s the 50,000-square-foot Younes Conference Center and the Holiday Inn Hotel and Convention Center, with another 25,000; plus, there are six other brand-name hotels. All are in a space of three city blocks at the same I-80 exit.
“Mr. Younes developed the area to give larger groups an affordable option to the bigger cities of Omaha and Lincoln,” said Craig Link, the company’s director of sales. “It’s been a great success.”
Corporate types can get tanked at Team Concepts, a 1,400-acre cattle ranch. And it’s not about alcohol: Attendees can settle into comfy Adirondack chairs in an animal watering tank with a cooler and float down the lazy Loop River.
“It’s like a cool bath or reverse hot tub,” said owner Josh Erikson. “In a relaxed atmosphere, everyone’s guard is down, and it’s easier to create pivotal, decision-making moments. Individuals then take a new outlook back to their workplace.”
Groups of up to 40 can stay in the 5,000-square-foot, river-view ranch house with a boardroom, a classroom and an outdoor courtyard. Other activities include four-wheeling, trap shooting and paintball.
Great Platte River Road Archway
Paying tribute to the country’s first transcontinental highway, the $60 million, 79,000-square-foot Great Platte River Road Archway spans 300-plus feet over Interstate 80 and tells the harrowing stories of the pioneers who braved the perilous trails west 170 years ago. Through award-winning, often-poignant displays, visitors experience the perseverance of families slogging through freezing rivers, the rumble of the iron horse on the transcontinental railway, the adrenaline thrill of a Pony Express rider exchange and the deafening thunder of a buffalo stampede.
A 1950s diner overlooks the interstate traffic speeding below.
Up to 150 people can meet indoors, and any number can meet on 90 acres outdoors. The Archway even has a seasonal 4,800-square-foot maze for team building.
Classic Car Collection
More than 200 classic cars star at an off-site venue sure to evoke “back when” memories. Classic Car Collection is a 50,000-square-foot museum filled with an eclectic mix of carefully restored vehicles with names now rarely spoken, such as Packard, Pierce Arrow, Locomobile and Phaeton.
“This collection is basically the history of automobiles, mostly American cars from the late 1800s to 1980s, with about 20 foreign cars,” said Greg McCollough, director. “The donor didn’t do muscle cars, street rods or sports cars.”
As many as 125 people can mingle among the historic cars at a catered reception or buffet at this exhibit, which shares a building with the outdoor store Cabela’s.
Location: South central Nebraska
Access: Interstate 80, Kearney Regional Airport
Major Meeting Spaces: Younes Convention Center, Ramada Conference Center
Hotel Rooms: 1,700, plus 60 more by the end of 2017
Off-Site Venues: Buffalo County Fairgrounds, Viaero Event Center, Great Platte River Road Archway, Classic Car Collection, Museum of Nebraska Art, Mac’s Creek Vineyard, Thunderhead Brewery, Merryman Performing Arts Center
Kearney Visitors Bureau