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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Southern Suburbs are Perfect for Meetings

Planners would be wise to look beyond the bright lights of major metropolitan cities to their suburbs.

These smaller communities often deliver similar cosmopolitan appeal but with better prices, more parking and less traffic — all within easy access of the big-city attractions.

In the South, suburbs range from quaint historic towns to bustling college communities, each with their own personality and appeal for meeting planners. 

Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Nashville has gotten a lot of attention in recent years as the newest “it” city, but that hasn’t affected the small-town feel and friendliness visitors enjoy in the neighboring city of Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

The city of 125,000 is part of the Nashville metropolitan area and home to Middle Tennessee State University.  The conference center at the 283-room Embassy Suites is the city’s largest meeting facility, with 42,000 square feet of flexible event space. The Mirabella Grand Ballroom offers 28,800 square feet that can be set up in as many as 10 separate rooms, and the 7,200-square-foot Oakleigh Junior Ballroom can be split into three spaces. Several nearby overflow hotels almost make “a Hotel Row right off Interstate 76,” said Wendy Bryant, director of communications for the Rutherford County Convention and Visitors Bureau.  The DoubleTree by Hilton Murfreesboro offers another 4,000 square feet of function space.

When in town, groups often visit Stones River National Battlefield, where one of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles — the Battle of Stones River — began on December 31, 1862. Rangers will lead tours or do special walk-and-talk programs with groups, such as demonstrating how to fire a cannon, and a small classroom in the visitor center can be used for luncheons.

Groups can also gather at Oaklands Mansion, a plantation home that began as a two-room brick house in 1815 and was added on to throughout the years leading up to the Civil War, culminating in the construction of an elaborate Italianate-style, two-story front addition in 1860. Groups can use the grounds for a tented reception for up to 300 guests or reserve the 1,750-square-foot Maney Hall for seated meals for up to 150 people.

Shelbyville, Kentucky

Not only is Shelbyville, Kentucky, the “American Saddlebred Capital of the World,” it is also home to Claudia Sanders Dinner House; Claudia is the wife of Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame.

The city of 15,000 residents sits about 30 miles east of Louisville in the rolling green hills of Kentucky Bluegrass horse country. More than 80 saddlebred horse farms operate in the area, and some offer group tours. The ShelbyKY Tourism Commission and Visitors Bureau can also arrange for groups to meet or dine at three private horse farms: Kismet Farms, Undulata Farm and Léttleiki Icelandics, which breeds Icelandic horses.

Downtown is a historic district where ornate, Victorian-era buildings line the streets. The Brick Room on Main Street is an event venue with exposed brick walls, hardwood floors and a small stage that can host groups of up to 125.

Col. Harland Sanders and his wife, Claudia, moved to Shelbyville from southeastern Kentucky in 1959. It’s from their Shelbyville home that the Sanders couple grew Kentucky Fried Chicken into a global organization before selling the company in 1964. But soon after, they opened Claudia Sanders Dinner House next door to their home, serving up plentiful portions of Southern cooking and Southern hospitality. And yes, the chicken is just as good as the Colonel’s original recipe — some say even better. The Dinner House mostly burned down in 1999 but reopened better than ever with several group dining rooms. The Colonel’s Quarters is the largest banquet room and can seat up to 450, or it can be divided for smaller events. The Kentucky Room can accommodate 150 for meals, and the Thoroughbred and Saddlebred rooms each comfortably seat up to 55.

About four miles away, the Jeptha Creed Distillery opened two months ago just off Interstate 64. The distillery specializes in modern takes on old-fashioned spirits such as flavored moonshine and vodka, as well as bourbon. Groups can tour the distillery, have a tasting, and reserve either the 1,760-square-foot indoor space or the 5,000-square-foot outdoor area.