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New and Renovated in the Heartland

Facilities are the name of the game in the meetings world, and the newest and nicest venues with the latest and greatest features often win the business.

Many cities are investing millions to expand and renovate their existing convention centers, or building new event centers and constructing new conference hotels to either stay competitive or get back in the game.

Here’s a look at some of the new and renovated meeting facilities in America’s Heartland.

DoubleTree by Hilton Evansville

Evansville, Indiana

When the Executive Inn in downtown Evansville, Indiana, closed in 2009, the city’s conference and convention market “just dried up,” said Laura Libs, director of marketing for the Evansville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“We have a terrific convention facility; we just haven’t had a hotel to accompany it for several years,” she said.

That will change when the new 241-room DoubleTree by Hilton Evansville opens in January with sky bridges that connect to both the 11,000-seat Ford Arena and the adjacent 280,000-square-foot Old National Events Plaza (ONEP), where planners will find a 38,000-square-foot exhibit hall, 14,000 square feet of ballroom space, a dozen flexible 1,000-square-foot meeting rooms and a 2,500-seat auditorium.

The hotel will also provide its own 12,000 square feet of meeting and function space, including a 6,400-square-foot ballroom, about 4,000 square feet of prefunction space and two breakout rooms.

The new property is already boosting Evansville’s meetings business, with organizations such as the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns expressing interest in bringing its regional conference to the city.

Groups are “very excited about having the hotel downtown,” said hotel general manager Tracy Wiley. Other than the Tropicana and Le Merigot hotels, both of which sit on the Ohio Riverfront several blocks from the convention center, the city hasn’t had a downtown convention hotel “for a long time.”

“Whether they’re having an event at ONEP or having a meeting with us, they’re very excited,” he said.

Mayo Civic Center

Rochester, Minnesota

Construction on the Mayo Civic Center expansion wrapped up in late December, and officials are getting the new space ready for its first event in early April.

Rochester, Minnesota, “really didn’t have a convention center, if you will,” said Brad Jones, executive director of the Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau. “What we did have was a multipurpose civic center; this takes us to the next level in terms of conferences, meetings and conventions.”

The expansion will add 100,000 square feet, including a 40,000-square-foot ballroom and 16 flexible meeting rooms beneath it, and both levels overlook a new 8,000-square-foot riverfront plaza. The south side of the convention center “is all glass; it’s a wave wall to emulate the river,” Jones said. The project also added 28,000 square feet of prefunction space and a commercial kitchen.

The project doubled the existing 100,000 square feet, which consists of an exhibit hall, a multipurpose arena, an auditorium, a mix of smaller meeting rooms and a 1,100-seat theater that is also being renovated.

State-of-the-art technology includes video walls, web conferencing and the ability to connect to Mayo Clinic’s IT infrastructure. But a different type of connection often wows planners, Jones said: the city’s system of skyways and “subways” (underground walkways) that connect the civic center to 2,000 guest rooms, more than 100 restaurants and plentiful parking. 

The center is flanked by the Rochester Art Center and Rochester Civic Theatre Company, “so there’s culture and art on either side,” he said.