South Bend, Indiana
Location: North central Indiana
Access: South Bend International Airport; interstates 80 and 90, U.S. Highway 31
Major Meeting Spaces: Century Center, Gillespie Conference Center
Hotel Rooms: 5,000
Off-Site Venues: University of Notre Dame, Studebaker National Museum, Howard Park
Visit South Bend Mishawaka
The University of Notre Dame put South Bend, Indiana, on the map, and it remains the city’s main attraction. But it’s far from the only one.
South Bend, in north-central Indiana, is the birthplace of the Studebaker, and classic car aficionados like to spend time at the Studebaker National Museum. If outdoor activities are your passion, South Bend has a Class II whitewater rafting course that runs right through the center of downtown.
Easy to reach by car from Indianapolis, Chicago, Michigan and Ohio, South Bend also has an airport that brings in four airlines from 13 different hubs across the country, making it a convenient meeting destination.
The Century Center, the city’s main convention center, is part of an 11-acre park along the St. Joseph River and has more than 100,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, including its 16,640-square-foot Great Hall with 35-foot floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the St. Joseph River.
“We have a mini-convention district downtown,” said Lindsay Ference, director of sales for Visit South Bend Mishawaka.
The Century Center is connected to or within walking distance of three hotels with a combined 600 guest rooms. The recently renovated DoubleTree by Hilton is connected to the center via a climate-controlled sky bridge. The Courtyard by Marriott is right across the street and is connected to the center via underground tunnel. The Aloft South Bend hotel is two blocks away. Both the DoubleTree and the Aloft have meeting space.
On the west side of town, the Gillespie Conference Center has 16,000 square feet of meeting space and is connected to a Hilton Garden Inn and the Inn at St. Mary’s, with a combined 250 guest rooms. This area is great for groups that want to incorporate meetings or tours on the University of Notre Dame or St. Mary’s College campuses.
Destination Notre Dame
The home of the Fighting Irish is not only a great place to host a meeting or event but also a wonderful place to visit. Guided tours of the campus, football stadium, basketball arena and Basilica of the Sacred Heart are a must, said Ference. Groups can host meetings or banquets in spaces scattered throughout campus, including ballroom space overlooking the football field. The Morris Inn, on campus, is a 150-room hotel that was built right across the street from McKenna Hall, the campus’ main conference center, which is being renovated and will reopen in September 2021. Between McKenna Hall and the Morris Inn, there will be 30,000 square feet of meeting space when the project is completed.
With the pandemic going on, many groups are looking for outdoor spaces to host events. Howard Park in downtown South Bend was recently redeveloped and offers ice skating, a patio, event lawns that can host groups of 1,000 people, fountains and firepits. If groups want a mix of indoor and outdoor spaces for their event, the Howard Park Event Center, overlooking the park and river, can host up to 150 people. Smaller groups can host a dinner for about 80 people at the Studebaker National Museum. Attendees have full access to the museum as part of their event.
The Studebaker and Oliver families helped drive South Bend’s growth, and their influence is felt in many parts of the city. Visitors can learn more about both families through a visit to the Studebaker National Museum and the Studebaker mansion, or a tour of Copshaholm, the home of the Oliver family, which developed and manufactured the chilled plow in South Bend. The Oliver mansion is one of the best-preserved homes of its kind.
“Just stepping inside there, the spices in the cabinets are back from when the Oliver family lived in the home,” Ference said. “You get a sense of what it was like for them to live in the mansion.” All three floors of the mansion are full of original Oliver family furniture and artifacts.
Groups interested in team-building activities should visit the East Race Waterway, the first man-made water rafting course in North America. Teams of three or four people can race each other down the Class II rapids or take on a series of ropes courses at Edge Adventures. After hours, groups can take in a baseball game at the home of the South Bend Cubs, a Class A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, or take a behind-the-scenes tour of the South Bend Chocolate Company, where everyone gets a chance to dip their own spoon into the chocolatey goodness. The Four Winds Casino opened in South Bend about a year and a half ago. Groups can arrange for a shuttle to bring their guests to and from the casino once their conference business is over.