Sometimes going small pays big.
Meeting planners who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of big cities but still have access to the full-service meeting facilities and world-class hotels they have grown to appreciate should consider these smaller towns in America’s Heartland that have much to offer in the way of unique venues, history and small-town charm.
Marietta, Ohio, was the first organized settlement in the Northwest Territory back in 1788. Rich in history, this quaint and historic town has many ties to the past, including a historic cemetery that is home to more Revolutionary war generals than anywhere else in the United States and a Native American burial mound. Many of the city’s downtown buildings date from the town’s founding, as does a former train bridge.
Groups hosting a meeting or an event in the city can stay at the Lafayette Hotel in downtown Marietta, which is located at the confluence of two rivers. The hotel has meeting rooms that can hold groups of up to 800 people.
The Quality Inn also has meeting space for up to 800 people. There are 12 hotels in Marietta and numerous unique venues in which to host dinners or after-hours events. The Adelphia Music Hall is an entertainment venue that hosts live music in the evenings but can be rented out for meetings and events during the day. The Peoples Bank Theatre, a former hippodrome from the vaudeville era, has 1,000 seats suitable for lecture-style meetings. The Valley Gem is a paddle-wheel boat that can take up to 300 people on a narrated cruise of the area, as well as host murder mystery, dinner and lunch cruises. After hours, groups can tour historic homes or take a trolley or Segway tour of the town.
North Platte, Nebraska
North Platte, Nebraska, is home to the country’s largest railroad yard. On any given day, between 10,000 and 15,000 railcars travel through the town. The railyards are North Platte’s main attraction. Visitors can go up in the Golden Spike, an observation tower that overlooks the trains and can even host an event there. The Cody Park Railroad Museum is a must-see for anyone who loves trains. North Platte also was home to Buffalo Bill Cody for 40 years, and his mansion and barn are full of Cody memorabilia. If shopping is your thing, Grain Bin Antique Town is a highlight. The site, just south of town, features 20 antique granaries that were turned into antique shops connected by a boardwalk.
North Platte has six hotels with meeting space for between five and 1,500 people. Among them are the Holiday Inn Express, with 152 rooms and capacity for 450 people, and the Ramada by Wyndham/Sandhills Convention Center, which has 122 guest rooms, a banquet capacity of 700 and a theater capacity of 1,500.
The D&N Event Center is a versatile convention space that can host up to 3,000 people for everything from large trade shows to monster truck rallies and sporting events in its 40,000-square-foot facility. Unusual venues include the Lincoln County Historical Museum, which can host groups of up to 50 people among the exhibits, and the Peg Leg Brewery, which can host groups of up to 40 people. The Prairie Arts Center used to be a post office. Now the Italian Renaissance building has an art gallery on the first floor and an event and meeting space on the second. It can hold 125 people for events.
Ste. Genevieve, Missouri
For smaller group events, Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, is fantastic. The town of 4,400 people is best known for its French colonial heritage and log structures that date to the late 1780s and early 1790s. Many of the log structures are used as residences and shops, and a few are interpreted as museums or historical attractions. The area also has a brand-new national park, Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park, which was established on October 30, to preserve some of these properties.
“That’s the main draw for downtown: the historic attractions,” said Toby Carrig, tourism director for the city of Ste. Genevieve.
Ste. Genevieve is surrounded by woods and is a great place to go hiking or biking, fishing and rock climbing. The Pickle Spring Natural Area has sandstone canyons, waterfalls and scenic bluffs. The area is also wonderful for grape growing and has a handful of wineries.
The town has one 48-room hotel, the Microtel Inn and Suites by Wyndham, which has a 65-square-foot meeting space. The Hotel Audubon Grill and Bar is a restaurant and hotel with 14 guest rooms and a small room for meetings and dinners. The DuBourg Centre, which is operated by the Catholic Church, can seat 300 people on its main floor for weddings and meetings and has smaller rooms upstairs for board meetings or small group meetings.
The Centre for French Colonial Life and the Boldac House Museum has a couple of large meeting rooms and a kitchen in its basement. The Chaumette Vineyards and Winery has a villa set up for business meetings.
Hutchinson, Kansas, is home to two world-class and unusual attractions. Cosmosphere is a Smithsonian-affiliated space museum that has a Gemini X spacecraft and an Apollo 13 command module that were restored in the city and are on permanent loan from the Smithsonian. The museum has more Russian space artifacts than any place outside of Moscow, as well as five rooms that can be rented out for meeting space.
Strataca, an underground salt mine museum, lies 650 feet below the town. Artifacts in the museum include perfectly preserved miners’ equipment and trash that was left down in the mine when the work stopped. The museum also showcases Hollywood movie props and costumes that are stored in a secure storage facility that takes advantage of the salt mine’s constant 68 degrees and 47% humidity. Groups can take a train or tram ride tour of the different areas of the former salt mine. Strataca also includes an events center that can host groups of up to 200 people.
The Kansas State Fair makes Hutchinson its home. The Fairgrounds have 40,000 square feet of space that can be used for board meetings, trade shows and sports tournaments. Hutchinson Community College also has meeting spaces available. There are 806 hotel rooms in Hutchinson.
The Mayo Clinic put Rochester, Minnesota, on the map. Many of the museums and attractions that call the city home came to the area because of the Mayo Clinic. The city has 5,700 hotel rooms and an international airport with daily flights from Atlanta, Denver, Minneapolis and Chicago.
Top attractions include the Mayowood mansion, a 38-room mansion built by Charles Mayo, co-founder of the Mayo Clinic, and the Plummer House, a historic five-story home with 49 rooms that was built in 1917 by a doctor at the clinic. The home includes many innovations that were quite advanced for the period, including a central vacuum system, an underground sprinkler system, a dumbwaiter, electricity and gas lighting. Visitors can tour the beautifully landscaped grounds and formal gardens or host an event for up to 100 people in the home.
Rochester has a growing craft beer scene and plenty of shopping. The area is known for its beautiful scenery and miles of trails and parks.
The Mayo Civic Center, which just expanded in 2017 to add a 38,000-square-foot ballroom and 14 more suites, has 200,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. It has a 1,000-person theater that is great for lectures and a 5,000-seat arena. There are 2,000 hotel rooms, shops and restaurants connected to it by climate-controlled skyways. Groups hosting events in Rochester can bring in guest speakers from the hospital.