There’s a perennial youthful energy in communities lucky enough to have colleges and universities in their backyards. In higher-ed towns, picturesque campuses and fan-packed sports events blend seamlessly with inviting city centers that brim with dining and entertainment options, making them a great option for your next group meeting destination.
Throughout New York, college towns offer bucolic settings and a variety of distinctive venues for meetings.
With more than 18 colleges and universities nearby — including the University of Rochester and the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), the third-largest city in New York operates as both a consummate college town and a bustling metro center.
Near both Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes Region, Rochester offers easy access to some of New York’s most beautiful scenery. Its downtown Joseph A. Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center (RCC) offers 25 meeting rooms and 100,000 square feet of meeting space with theater seating for up to 5,000. Four adjacent hotels — including the Rochester Riverside Hotel and the Hyatt Regency Rochester, which both also have their own dedicated meeting spaces — offer more than 1,100 guest rooms with climate-controlled access to the RCC so groups don’t have to worry about the area’s occasionally harsh winter weather.
Some groups take advantage of meeting facilities at university venues. RIT has become a hub for esports events thanks to its School of Interactive Games and Media. At the University of Rochester, visitors can enjoy watching Quidditch, the sport made popular in the Harry Potter franchise, and cheering on the UR Thestrals. Area teams also have active followings for their football, lacrosse, hockey and fencing events.
Groups can rent unique meeting facility space alongside iconic games and toys at the Strong Museum of Play, home to the National Toy Hall of Fame and the World Video Game Hall of Fame. For those wanting sweeping views of Lake Ontario and the Genesee River, the Greenhouse at the Port of Rochester offers a perfect venue. The space is able to seat 250, or 128 for sit-down dinners. “It’s a very popular option,” said Deidre Wetelainen, vice president of sales and services for Visit Rochester. “You sort of forget you’re in the middle of a city there.”
Home to Cornell University as well as Ithaca College, Ithaca is a bustling Finger Lakes city — it sits on Cayuga Lake — and a quintessential college town. The natural beauty of the area is legendary, thanks to miles of hiking trails, several state parks and more than 150 waterfalls within 10 miles.
Groups can rent meeting space on the Cornell University campus, where conference facilities offer more than 75 meeting rooms, lecture rooms and auditoriums with capacity for groups of 50 to 950. The university’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art also offers meeting space, including an outdoor Mallin Sculpture Court, the glass-enclosed Appel Lobby and the sixth-floor Lynch Conference Room, which offers stunning views of Cayuga Lake and can fit groups of up to 150.
The nearby Statler Hotel at Cornell University, on the college campus, has 153 guest rooms, a newly renovated grand ballroom with seating for up to 270 and an executive education center that features a 700-seat auditorium and seven break-out rooms able to seat 150.
Ithaca College’s Athletics and Events Center, which includes an indoor track and field center, an outdoor stadium and a 47,000-square-foot indoor aquatics facility, is often used for hosting athletic events and other large conferences or expos.
“We make a point of meeting with Cornell and Ithaca on a monthly basis so that we stay aware of what space may be available,” said Heather Hughes, director of sales and marketing for the Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We really work to cultivate those relationships so we can be a resource for meeting planners coming to our area.”
Outside of meetings, guests can enjoy the Finger Lakes wineries as well as Ithaca’s museums, restaurants, craft pubs and unique shops, many found in the popular four-block, pedestrian-only district known as Ithaca Commons.
Home to the Orange Nation, the city of Syracuse holds a special place in the hearts of all Syracuse University alumni and fans. In the heart of the state within the Finger Lakes region, the city presents not only a palpable college energy, but also easy access to urban attractions and nearby natural beauty.
The downtown Oncenter Convention Complex covers three city blocks with more than 200,000 square feet of meeting space, a 15,000-square-foot ballroom, 10 dedicated meeting rooms and a 7,000-seat arena. Additionally, the SRC Arena, on the campus of the city’s Onondaga Community College, offers 60,000 square feet of meeting space, dedicated meeting rooms and an indoor sports arena that can accommodate groups of more than 6,000.
Within walking distance to the convention center, the Marriott Syracuse Downtown, recently restored to its 1920s-era glory, offers more than 20 event rooms and 34,000 square feet of event space of its own.
The city is also home to the New York State Fairgrounds, which just underwent a $50 million restoration that included the unveiling of a new exposition center with more than 110,000 square feet of open meeting space.
Given Syracuse’s central location, guests will want to schedule time before or after their meetings to see all that upstate New York has to offer.
“We are right in the middle of the state, so we’re within a short drive of just about every iconic upstate New York attraction, whether it’s Cooperstown, the Finger Lakes or Niagara Falls,” said Carol Eaton, senior vice president of Visit Syracuse.
For an easy side trip, the nearby village of Skaneateles, just 30 minutes from Syracuse, is a “quintessential Finger Lakes village,” Eaton said. “It’s an entryway into the entire Finger Lakes Region.” And for diehard Orange fans, public tours of the Carrier Dome, home to Syracuse football, basketball and lacrosse, are available.
Home to Binghamton University (BU), part of the State University of New York system, Binghamton sits near the Pennsylvania border and was the birthplace of IBM.
Known as the Carousel Capitol of the World thanks to its six working antique carousels, the only collection of its kind across the globe, the city of Binghamton also offers stunning river views — it sits at the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chenago rivers — a vibrant campus community, a thriving arts scene and a growing microbrewery trail.
“We have everything that a bigger city has, just on a smaller scale,” said Gina Calisi, convention sales manager for the Greater Binghamton Convention and Visitors Bureau. During meeting downtime, visitors can enjoy exhibits at the Roberson Museum and Science Center as well as the Kopernik Observatory in nearby Vestal. The Binghamton area is also home to April, the famous giraffe, who makes her home at the nearby Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville.
The city offers more than 2,500 total guest rooms, and many hotels, including the Holiday Inn Binghamton Hotel and Convention Center and the DoubleTree by Hilton-Binghamton, offer their own dedicated, flexible meeting and conference spaces that can cater to small groups.
Groups looking for unique meeting venues could turn to the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena, a 6,900-seat multipurpose arena that is home to the minor league Binghamton Devils hockey team. Several sites on the BU campus are also available, including the BU Events Center, which offers more than 156,000 square feet of event space that can accommodate NCAA events as well as trade fairs, banquets and conventions.
The BU campus is also home to the Anderson Center for the Performing Arts, which includes a 1,170-seat main theater and two more intimate theaters. And the opportunities for venue rental on campus may continue to grow.
“The university has just launched a brand-new office charged with bringing more events to campus,” Calisi said.
In addition to serving as New York’s capital, Albany is also home to several colleges and universities, including the University at Albany, the College of St. Rose, the Sage College of Albany and Siena College in nearby Loudonville, where “the alumni ties are very strong,” said Jay Cloutier, director of sales for the Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Their basketball program is so strong and has such a following that the college cannot contain it. They rent the Times Union Center in Albany, a 15,000-seat arena, for their home games.”
Many groups have incorporated VIP receptions at Siena basketball games as part of their meeting itineraries, Cloutier said. Meanwhile, the football program at the University of Albany continues to improve — and the university is working to build the tailgating experience surrounding it. “They play some major colleges in Division IA,” said Cloutier.
The city’s State University of New York Polytechnic Institute often hosts groups within its ZEN (Zero-Energy Nanotechnology) Building, which includes two auditoriums, three meeting rooms and a large atrium that can accommodate groups of up to 600.
In nearby Troy, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is home to the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, which features performance and presentation space as well as flexible meeting rooms for groups.
Several hotels boast proximity to Albany’s university and colleges, including the Albany Hilton Garden Inn-SUNY Area, which offers 126 guest rooms, several dedicated meeting rooms and a 2,700-square-foot ballroom that can accommodate up to 390 people for receptions.
During downtime, visitors can tour the New York State Capitol, enjoy the city’s booming culinary district and visit sites on the Capital Craft Beverage Trail.