You don’t have to go very far outside of Chicago to find charming northern Illinois communities that offer plenty of meeting opportunities at reasonable prices. Destinations in DuPage County, Aurora and the Quad Cities offer meeting planners a blend of small-town convenience and urban amenities.
In northern Illinois, small to medium-size meeting markets can’t help but be affected by that megameeting market Chicago, right at their doorstep. And that’s a good thing. Dupage County, with 32 communities that make up Chicago’s western suburbs, is a good example. There are a combined 2 million square feet of meeting space and 16,000 hotel rooms in that area.
“One selling point is that we’re just 20 miles from downtown Chicago if people want that experience,” said Lisa Landers, director of sales for the DuPage Convention and Visitors Bureau. Pricewise, Chicago could be called a first-tier meeting city; DuPage County, a second-tier. “So we‘re much more affordable,” said Landers.
Landers brags that DuPage County is near two international airports: O’Hare and Midway. “Having a first-tier airport means more flights, fewer cancellations and lower pricing. There are many interstates nearby, plus rail service,” she said.
There are busy meeting centers, including the Odeum Sports and Expo Center in Villa Park, with 130,000 square feet, and the DuPage Expo Center in St. Charles, with 23,000 square feet.
DuPage has all the major brand hotels with myriad meeting venues. Among the more prominent are the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca, with 408 guest rooms and 45,000 square feet of meeting space to accommodate up to 1,000 attendees in four ballrooms and 33 meeting rooms, and the Westin Lombard, with 500 guest rooms and 39,000 square feet of meeting and event space. There are several resorts, too, such as Oakbrook Hills Resort, with 386 rooms and 43,000 square feet of meeting space.
For off-hours pursuits, DuPage County has many “cluster areas” with hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs and shopping centers together. Oakbrook Center in Oak Brook is the largest outdoor shopping center in the country. Naperville is known for chic boutique shopping.
Aurora is only 37 miles southwest of Chicago on the Fox River and is the state’s second-largest city with 200,000 residents. The market includes parts of six counties, a nice mix of urban and suburban.
“We’re accessible by interstates, and the Metro train actually ends in Aurora,” said Mike Pfeiffer, group sales agent at the Aurora Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We have free parking and less expensive hotels and venues than Chicago does.”
There are 200 hotel rooms in the market and plenty of meeting venues. Among the most prominent is the Best Western Plus Timber Creek Inn and Suites and Convention Center in the community of Sandwich. It offers 25,000 square feet of divisible space for conferences, trade shows, events, receptions and breakouts. Many other area hotels have smaller spaces that accommodate many types of meetings.
Aurora offers the Paramount Arts Centre with the Paramount Theater, the Copley Theater and the Grand Gallery. There are many interesting spaces to rent inside, too. Two Brothers Roundhouse is another renovated historic structure. The old, stone railroad roundhouse has cool meeting and banquet space.
For after-hours activities, Fermilab is a particle physics research center. It’s quite popular because of the amazing facilities and because of its physical beauty, with 7,000 acres of prairies, forests, ponds and wetlands at its site. “They have wonderful tours and unique venues,” said Pfeiffer.
Farnsworth House in Plano is one of the most famous examples of modernist domestic architecture in the United States. Teddy Roosevelt’s old Pullman railroad car from the early 1900s is now in Sandwich and has become a popular restaurant called Bull Moose Bar and Grill.