Eugene at a Glance
Location: Central western Oregon, between the Pacific Coast and the Cascade Mountains
Access: Eugene Airport, Amtrak, Interstate 5
Hotel rooms: 9,000
Eugene, Cascades and Coast
Guest rooms: 275
Meeting Space: 30,000-plus square feet
Valley River Inn
Guest rooms: 257
Meeting Space: 15,000 square feet
Guest rooms: 82
Meeting Space: 3,700 square feet
Who’s Meeting in Eugene
Neighborhoods USA — Annual Conference on Neighborhood Concerns
Lifeway Christian Resources and Arrowhead Conferences and Events — Living Proof Live With Beth Moore
Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies — Summer Meeting
Eugene, Oregon, and Mother Nature are definitely an item.
Stretching from the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Coast, an area known as the Eugene Cascades Coast, the metro area of Eugene and its sister city, Springfield, anchor this luscious cache: 30 miles of sandy, rocky shoreline; 2.5 million acres of forestland; 250-plus lakes and reservoirs, including Waldo Lake, one of the world’s purest; 500-year-old forests; 200 waterfalls; and 74 parks.
When groups gather in Eugene, outdoor activities are just as important as indoor meetings.
Founded in the 1860s, Eugene lies an hour from volcanically formed mountains to the east, where thrill-seekers can paddle whitewater rapids on the McKenzie River, ski in Willamette Pass and hike through old-growth forests. An hour to the west, the salty seacoast offers horseback riding on the beach, watching sea lions in the nation’s largest sea cave and screaming through a thrilling dune buggy ride at 40,000-acre Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.
Two enormous buttes rise on either side of town. One of the best views of the city can be seen from easy-to-reach Skinner’s Butte, named for Eugene’s founder. Small, independently owned coffee shops, bakeries, restaurants and hotels flourish. The new Gordon Hotel is part of a $75 million downtown market expansion of the popular Fifth Street Public Market. The hostelry’s sister hotel, Inn at the 5th, is ranked by TripAdvisor as one of the Top 25 Hotels in the Nation.
Available for speedy pedaling, leisurely city-pumping or strolling on foot while sipping a “cuppa joe,” more than 43 miles of bike paths wind through downtown in this sustainability- and wellness-focused community. To prepare for the World Athletics Championships in 2022 at historic Hayward Field, the city is sponsoring a mural project that can be toured. To date, 23 enormous paintings liven buildings in the downtown corridor.
Perhaps surprisingly, this nature-based, relaxing, find-your-fun metropolitan destination is extremely affordable, said Juanita Metzler, senior director of conventions for Eugene Cascades Coast.
“We have no sales tax,” she said. “And by law, we pump your gas. We treat visitors as personal guests.”
Near the River Valley Inn, the Lane Events Center offers seven spaces. A 37,000-square-foot event hall hosts 5,285 standing and 2,500 banquet-style, the atrium with its high glass ceiling can accommodate 730 for a reception, and the 7,000-square-foot, contemporary pavilion can seat 400 for dinner.
“We can make an event with many different pieces come together seamlessly and synergistically,” said Rachel Bivens, marketing manager and assistant fair manager.
Rentable spaces also abound at 20,000-square-foot Venue 252, a renovated urban industrial site that began in 1945 as a planing mill and morphed into a contemporary gem.
“Our wow factor has two parts,” said Amy Schnoor, catering and events sales manager. “We lean toward modernism architecturally, a trend you usually see only in larger cities. And we’re owned by a family-operated grocery chain, Market of Choice, where the focus is on organics and great products, and shopping is truly an experience. Venue 252’s reputation reflects that quality.”
In the Whiteaker neighborhood downtown, the facility’s 9,410-square-foot Grand Hall seats 770 guests or hosts 1,285 standing; its balcony overlooks a spacious main floor.
Also downtown, the University of Oregon campus has 63,000 square feet of versatile convention, meeting and event space that includes the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Contemporary Art and the 12,500-seat Matthew Knight Arena, the largest indoor venue in the Eugene-Springfield metro area.
In addition to all the area’s outdoor competitive possibilities, team building rocks in Springfield’s Booth Kelly Makers District, with a choice of axe-throwing, an escape room or painting-and-wine workshops.
Major Meeting Spaces
Nicknamed Track Town, Eugene was home to long-distance Olympian Steve Prefontaine and is where University of Oregon track athlete Phil Knight and his coach, Bill Bowerman, began Nike Inc. in 1964.
Located downtown next to the Hult Center for the Performing Arts, the 275-guest room Graduate Eugene honors the city’s running history with a Nike museum in its lobby and 44 pairs of those “Just do it” shoes in a display that’s pure cool art.
“We go to great lengths to make sure our staff are local history experts,” said Jason Williams, the property’s general manager.
Graduate Eugene’s 30,000 square feet of meeting space is in ballrooms, foyers, event rooms and a 12th-floor rooftop balcony with exquisite city vistas.
Opened in February, the artcentric Gordon Hotel has 82 eclectic guest rooms; two restaurants, one that serves American comfort food and the other, a Mexican cantina with a rooftop bar; a hidden speakeasy; and 3,700 square feet of meeting space with numerous windows.
The Gordon is graced by more than 150 artworks created by local artists and hotel staff. An art bar has craft and painting supplies, and an artist paints in-house.
Beside the Willamette River, the 257-room Valley River Inn offers 15,000 square feet of event space that includes a room with 180-degree water views. Guests can stroll a river path or shop at the Valley River Center mall next door.
After the Meeting
Wineries, breweries and distilleries pepper Eugene, with vineyards but a half-hour drive away. The largest certified biodynamic winery in North America, the King Estate Winery was started in 1991, and its 1,033 acres now also sustain orchards, berries and culinary gardens. A farm-to-table, fine-dining restaurant offers library wine pairings and an outdoor dining option.
For a wine-and-nature combo, a Wine and Waterfalls tour includes the Columbia River Gorge, the state’s largest waterfall and winery stops for lunch and tastings.
A slew of breweries and distilleries thrive in downtown Eugene. Steelhead Brewing Company pairs award-winning craft beer freshly brewed on-site with an extensive restaurant menu, and Thinking Tree Spirits produces locally sourced gin, vodka and rum in its farm-to-flask distillery.
The city’s first cidery, WildCraft Cider Works, creates small-batch ciders from locally sourced apples and craft beverages from other whole local fruits, all without artificial sweeteners or preservatives.
A post-conference visit to the 128-year-old Heceta Head Lighthouse, a working lighthouse perched on a scenic cliff by a Pacific beach, provides a fresh-air outing. Activities include lighthouse tours, beachcombing, shorebird-spotting, sandcastle-building and a beach picnic. The lightkeeper’s house is available for outdoor gatherings.
At the world-class Museum of Natural and Cultural History, visitors can explore 15,000 years of Oregon’s cultural history and 300 million years of its natural history and geology through hands-on displays in a Northwest Coast longhouse-inspired building. Treasures include unusual artifacts and fossils, such as the world’s oldest shoes and a giant sabertoothed salmon.