On the eastern end of the heartlands on prime territory on the Great Lakes, Ohio has served as a bridge between east and west, the Eastern seaboard and the metropolises of the Midwest, for more than 100 years.
As more and more Fortune 500 corporations set up bases of operations in its major cities and suburbs, the state is also blossoming into a mecca for meetings.
Drive-in meetings are the name of the game in much of Ohio due to its position within 500 miles of 50 percent of the U.S. population. So unlike many U.S. cities, in Ohio, some of the best options for meetings are often on the outskirts of its major cities and in its suburbs, where parking is plentiful and highways areeasily accessed.
Akron, the seat of Summit County, feels more like its own destination than a suburb of nearby Cleveland. Although its urban nature gives meeting planners easy access to top hotel chains and two state-of-the-art conference centers, Akron is making a name for itself with more out-of-the-box meeting venues.
“We encourage people to get out of the traditional four walls and box meeting space and explore some of the unusual venues we have available,” said destination sales manager Brittany Wigman.
This year, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, which travels through Cuyahoga Valley National Park, is launching a meeting car on its routes through Summit County, allowing boards and other small groups to take half-day meetings or activities like beer and wine tasting or dinners on the rails.
Across the street from the John S. Knight Convention Center, which has a 30,000-square-foot exhibition hall, a 12,000-square-foot ballroom, 12,600 square feet of meeting rooms and 20,000 square feet of prefunction space, a Masonic lodge dating back to 1917 is one of Akron’s more historic buildings as well as one of the city’s more desirable meeting spaces. The hall features a two-story, 3,520-square-foot ballroom; a bar and lounge; a theater seating more than 650 people; and three additional meeting rooms.
In Akron and the greater Summit County area, planners can choose from full-service hotels from most major chains, including an all-suite Sheraton property, the 209-room Sheraton Suites Akron Cuyahoga Falls, which is now updating all of its rooms, but remains open during renovations. It has 4,446 square feet of meeting space in 14 meeting rooms. Near the airport, the Gateway Event and Conference Center features a 3,200-square-foot hall and two meeting rooms for small meetings of 20 or fewer people.
Though Mason, Ohio, has only a handful of hotels with meeting space, the size of these properties and the breadth of its offerings make it an ideal place for an Ohio meeting for attendees with families in tow — or who could benefit from a little restorative time acting like kids again themselves.
One of the area’s largest hotels, in terms of both rooms and meeting space, is the Great Wolf Lodge Mason. The resort features a nonstop, morning-till-night environment of fun with built-in adventure and water parks and a proprietary, high-tech scavenger hunt for children. But this Great Wolf also holds 15 meeting rooms with 25,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. “It was the first one with a substantial meeting space,” said Linda Smith, senior sales manager for the Warren County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Great Wolf can organize custom team-building activities for groups staying at the resort, and both the Beach Waterpark and the 364-acre Kings Island amusement park are convenient to the 309-room Cincinnati Marriott Northeast, which has 13,000 square feet of meeting space.
When looking at dates, meeting planners should be aware that on the second weekend in October, nearby Waynesville hosts the Ohio Sauerkraut Festival, one of the largest events in the state. Although it is easy to arrive by car as Mason sits at the crossroads of I-71 and I-75, the area is also convenient to the airports in Cincinnati and Dayton, though the latter, which is served by United, American and Delta, is more economical.