Cities scattered in different states often share the same name, but they are never confusingly similar.
No one ever mistakes Nashville, Tennessee, for Nashville, Indiana. Columbus, Ohio, is nothing like Columbus, Georgia. My hometown, Lexington, Kentucky, is due west of Lexington, Virginia, and except for being college towns with cool histories, the cities are miles apart literally and figuratively.
It is fun, though, to compare and contrast same-name small cities to see how each expresses its personality and extends a welcome to meeting-goers. Here are five examples.
Springfield, Illinois, and Springfield, Missouri
Abraham Lincoln established himself in Springfield, the Illinois capital, so it’s a thrill to find Lincoln historic sites steps away from downtown’s BOS Center and two major hotels, with a total of 700 rooms between them. Groups naturally want to add a little Abe to events, and one way to do that is an after-hours banquet at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, with the White House facade or Lincoln log cabin as a backdrop.
Downtown Springfield, Missouri, teems with 40 restaurants, four craft breweries, live theater, the Springfield Cardinals ballpark and the Hotel Vandivort, a boutique hotel that boasts Vantage, a rooftop bar for admiring sunsets over downtown Springfield. Conventions meet at the Springfield Expo Center downtown, where the adjacent University Plaza Hotel and Convention Center and Tru by Hilton supply guest rooms. Celebrating Springfield’s ties to the Mother Road, the Route 66 Food Truck Park has eats of all sorts and free live music.
Portland, Oregon, and Portland, Maine
Though Portland, Oregon, is way larger, with a population of 650,000 to Portland, Maine’s 66,000, both are the biggest cities in their respective states, and both have distinct vibes. The Oregon version is famous for coffee shops and hipsters but is also known in meeting circles for interesting, independent downtown hotels as well as one of the country’s most environmentally conscious convention centers.
Portland, Maine, like its Western counterpart, is comfortably walkable, with cobbled byways. It’s rare not to have a view of the historic Old Port, which huddles at the hillside city’s feet. Downtown’s hotels come in varied forms — all-suites, boutiques, big-name brands — and almost all manage to offer views of blue waters. Not far from town, seaside resorts welcome meetings as well as vacationers.
Charleston, South Carolina, and Charleston, West Virginia
Charleston, West Virginia’s downtown follows the Kanawha River through a mountain valley. At one end, stands the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center, twice the size it was five years ago and certified green, as well as five nearby convention hotels; at the other end is the gold-domed state Capitol. In between are riverfront parks, an open-air market for farmers and others, restaurants, shops and a performing arts center.
It’s hard not to include history when meetings are in Charleston, South Carolina. Every venue a meeting might require — from ballrooms and boardrooms to restaurants and reception spaces — will likely be housed in a historic building in what must be the South’s best-preserved historic city. Charleston is entertainment in itself, with its warren of brick streets, gracefully aged homes and pocket gardens. It’s difficult to doubt the CVB’s claims that attendance goes up when groups come there for meetings.
Bloomington, Indiana, and Bloomington, Minnesota
Indiana’s Bloomington is devoted to feeding and entertaining nearly 50,000 Indiana University students, hence the 100 restaurants in what otherwise would be defined as a small town. Downtown shops huddle around a town square, home to three brand hotels that are walking distance from the city’s small convention center, just off the square. IU’s campus, with its own hotel and conference center, borders downtown.
Bloomington, Minnesota, has a lot going for it. Ten minutes south of Minneapolis and even closer to the international airport, Bloomington is best known as the home of the Mall of America. For respite from all the retail therapy — as well as venues for meetings — 40 hotels are nearby. And meeting planners quickly learn that the mall’s 500 stores also include restaurants, an adventure course, a mirror maze and mini golf.
Arlington, Texas, and Arlington, Virginia
I didn’t know much about Arlington, Texas, before I visited 20 years ago. Impressive then, the Dallas suburb is more so now. Last year it welcomed MPI’s World Education Congress and the World Series at the Texas Rangers Globe Life Field. And a major league baseball park isn’t its only big-time sports venue. Arlington is also home to AT&T Stadium, where the Dallas Cowboys play. The fun and games continue at Six Flags Over Texas and at an esports stadium for competitive gaming that’s part of the city’s convention/expo center.
Eleven Metro stops put Arlington, Virginia, a quick and easy hop away from downtown Washington, D.C. Many of its 40 hotels have significant meeting space, so groups can shave about 20% off hotel bills and still enjoy the district and all of its draws. But visitors can also stay plenty busy touring Arlington’s nine villages and compelling sites, which include Arlington National Cemetery and the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial.