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Meeting at the Madison

Hotel Madison and Shenandoah Valley Conference Center

Location: Harrisonburg, Virginia

Size: 230 guest rooms

Meeting Space: 21,000 square feet

Access: Interstate 81; 120 miles southwest of Dulles International Airport; 138 miles northwest of Richmond International Airpoirt

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The Hotel Madison is in a sweet spot — actually two sweet spots. The hotel is in Harrisonburg, in Virginia’s striking Shenandoah Valley, and it is the edge of a university campus, which influences its operation and gives it a special vitality.

The official name of the 230-room property is the Hotel Madison and Shenandoah Valley Conference Center. It is a gem in a city of slightly more than 55,000 residents and a major asset for the 20,000-student James Madison University (JMU). In fact, it is the official hotel of JMU.

“We have made a name for ourselves with the JMU connection [academic groups’ meetings, alumni gatherings, parent visits], state association meetings and regional corporate meetings,” said Martha Fraser, director of sales and marketing. “Our facilities are excellent, and the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley is a major plus. The hotel and Harrisonburg offer a different experience from Northern Virginia or Coastal Virginia. All of Virginia is appealing, but the valley and the surrounding mountains are special.”

Fraser says the scale and utility of the 21,000-square-foot Shenandoah Valley Conference Center often surprise clients. The conference center is on one floor, loading docks included, which is convenient for load-ins, teardowns and conducting meetings and events. A bonus is that conference center can be entered from inside the hotel or exterior entrances, meaning that meeting attendees and leisure guests can easily coexist.

“A special aspect of the Hotel Madison is that we are not affiliated with a national brand,” Fraser said. “That means we can express our own personality — both as the hotel and as individuals. Our decision makers are right here in the building, and clients recognize that.”

The connection to JMU shows through in hotel operations as more than 20 students from JMU’s Hart School of Hospitality, Sport and Recreation Management work at the property. Many become permanent team members after graduation. CEOWORLD magazine cited JMU’s hospitality management program among the 50 best in the nation.

Meeting Spaces

Most of Shenandoah Valley Conference Center’s meeting space is in three ballrooms, all divisible: the 8,500-square-foot Shenandoah Grand Ballroom, the 2,800-square-foot Appalachian Ballroom and the 2,000-square-foot Allegheny Ballroom. Custom-designed carpet in the Shenandoah Ballroom depicts the Shenandoah Valley, one of the hallmarks of Virginia. Other spaces include 4,560 square feet of prefunction space and 11 meeting rooms. A boardroom can accommodate 25 guests, and the Dolly Madison Room in the Montpelier Restaurant is a private space for 20.

Great Food

Tassie Pippert, host of Virginia Public Media’s “Un-wine’d” culinary show, certified chef and certified wine specialist — and a lecturer at JMU — helped design a new menu for the hotel’s showcase Montpelier Restaurant. The restaurant exemplifies the hotel’s claim of “rustic elegance and subtle sophistication,” and chef Matt Carothers is carrying that inspiration through the hotel’s catering operation. A new touch is a futuristic-looking, baby-blue Neapolitan pizza oven that heats to 900 degrees and cooks pizzas in less than two minutes. It’s situated where small groups can get a close-up tour with a chef, so ask.

Music in the Air

“We believe in the power of music — to entertain, to soothe and to unify,” Fraser said. “It is part of the fabric of the hotel.” Quills, the hotel’s lobby bar, often becomes a performance space, adding a special touch for anyone in the high-ceilinged lobby. Performers often are professors and students from JMU’s School of Music. Other performers come from Harrisonburg and other parts of Virginia, a state with a deep reservoir of talent in various styles of music. “Guests love hanging out and hearing good music,” Fraser said. “Music brings people together.” The hotel’s coffee shop, Grace + Main, also has entertainment.

Out and About

Historic, walkable downtown Harrisonburg (“the Friendly City”) is just outside the hotel, and the Traipse smartphone app offers five walking tours, including a pub crawl. Harrisonburg Tourism’s Jennifer Bell says meeting groups have great fun using the itineraries for team-building scavenger hunts. The region is replete with reasons to explore before or after meetings, like Shenandoah National Park and its view-laden Skyline Drive, the Massanutten ski resort, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Luray Caverns, hiking, bicycling and fishing on the serpentine loops of the North Fork and the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.