Indiana is so well placed in the United States that it is contiguous to several major metropolitan areas, including Chicago; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Louisville, Kentucky, not to mention its own Indianapolis. Conference planners love to host meetings in some of the smaller suburbs surrounding these cities while still having the option to visit and experience the amenities and attractions of the larger urban centers.
Only 25 miles from downtown Chicago, the small towns that make up the South Shore of Indiana are a great place to host a smaller meeting or conference and still take advantage of all that Chicago has to offer. The biggest attraction in the area is Indiana Dunes National Park, which was just upgraded from lakeshore to National Park status in 2019.
“That kind of helped put us on the map,” said Erika Dahl, director of communications for the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority in Hammond, Indiana. “It was always a National Park, but it was a lowercase park. It was a lakeshore. It didn’t get a lot of national attention, but now it is a bucket list item.”
And although the area doesn’t have its own convention center, it has 6,000 hotel rooms and some distinctive meeting venues, including two casino properties and the County Line Orchard.
“We’re an affordable location to have an event or meeting, or even just a quick weekend getaway,” Dahl said.
Guests can fly into either of Chicago’s two airports, and it is a short drive or electric train ride from Chicago to northwest Indiana. The Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Indiana, is not only a fun place to visit but also a great place to host a smaller meeting or event right on the lakefront. Fair Oaks Farms, one of the largest agritourism destinations in the country, also has 17,000 square feet of meeting space in its Farmhouse Restaurant, Event Center and Pub.
A suburb of Indianapolis, Carmel is a thriving upscale community just north of the city. Chock full of top-notch hotels and meeting facilities, the city prides itself on its visitor experience. Outdoor enthusiasts can take a bike ride along the Monon Trail, a paved path that runs from Carmel 20 miles north through Westfield, Grand Park and Sheridan. The trail takes visitors past the Carmel Center for the Performing Arts in the city center, as well as the Carmel Arts and Design district; Clay Terrace, an outdoor shopping mall; and the Grand Park Sports Campus.
Along with more traditional meeting options, Carmel also has some breweries and restaurants that make first-rate off-site venues. The Embassy Suites by Hilton Noblesville is the area’s largest meeting hotel, with 30,000 square feet of space. The Renaissance Indianapolis North Hotel in Carmel has 268 lodge rooms and 16,000 square feet of meeting space. The Hotel Carmichael, which opens in June, will have a more boutique vibe with several indoor and outdoor food-and-beverage outlets and an on-site supper club.
The Grand Park Sports Campus is a 265,000-square-foot events center that is well suited for exhibitions and trade and consumer shows. The space is getting updated to be more of a conference facility with breakout spaces. The Ritz Charles, the Hyatt Place Indianapolis and the 502 East Event Centre in Carmel also offer convention and meeting facilities.
Jeffersonville, Indiana, sits across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky.
“We have the benefits of both sides of the river, and we are a smaller destination,” said Luanne Mattson, assistant director of SoIN Tourism. “We have three communities — Clarksville, New Albany and Jeffersonville — that have meeting capabilities, and all are destinations themselves.”
Because Louisville recently opened a brand-new convention center, many smaller meetings and conventions are getting turned away, which has given Jeffersonville a chance to get creative and attract those groups across the river. Its major hotels include the Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott Louisville North, the Sheraton Louisville Riverside and Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham.
One work-around is that event attendees stay at hotels in Jeffersonville and take a free shuttle service between the hotels and area meeting venues, including those in Louisville.
“I take time to go out and find those connections,” said Todd Read, trade and consumer sales manager for SoIN Tourism. “We can make it work for everybody.”
One of the big draws in downtown Jeffersonville is the Big Four Pedestrian Bridge, a former railroad bridge that was converted to a pedestrian and bike path that connects historic Jeffersonville to Louisville’s Waterfront Park. The bridge opened in 2014, and with it came new restaurants, bars, attractions and an arts and cultural district at the base of the bridge.
One hour north of Indianapolis, the home of Purdue University has a small-town feel with many urban amenities.
Lafayette-West Lafayette is broken down into three distinct districts, with a downtown that runs 92 blocks across the Wabash River and up to the Purdue University campus. The Lafayette side is the historic side. In West Lafayette, the Purdue campus dominates. Both sides come together to take advantage of the local boutique shops, restaurants, 113 public art installations and art galleries downtown. The area has 2,700 hotel rooms, with more slated to open in the next year.
The city doesn’t have a conference center, but Purdue has plenty of meeting options. The Purdue Union Club Hotel, which is undergoing a $30 million renovation, is a full-service, 192-room hotel. Its ballrooms can hold 1,200 people for a cocktail-style reception. The hotel is connected to the Stewart Center, a dedicated meeting facility that can host groups of 10 to 500 people in its 23 meeting rooms. The center also has two auditoriums: Fowler Hall, a 400-seat theater, and the Loeb Playhouse, a 1,000-seat theater. Both can be used for large-group presentations, ceremonies and performances.
Convention-goers love to add tours of Wolf Park, the Farm at Prophetstown and Tippecanoe Battlefield and Museum. Wolf Park is a research facility that studies wolf pack behavior and pecking order, and it has grown into a major attraction. The Farm at Prophetstown is a 1920s-era farm that shows visitors what it was like when farms began using tractors instead of animals to farm.
French Lick/West Baden
French Lick and West Baden are resort towns that offer world-class opportunities and small-town charm. Located 43 miles from Bloomington, Indiana, and 74 miles from Louisville, Kentucky, the area is a great jumping-off spot to these larger metropolitan areas.
The French Lick Resort — made up of the historic French Lick Springs Hotel, built in 1901, and the West Baden Springs Hotel, built in 1902 and listed as a National Historic Landmark — features upscale amenities like world-class spas, three championship-level golf courses and a casino. There are 700 rooms between the two properties, and the new Valley Tower, a 70-room hotel connected to the casino, recently opened its doors.
In 2015, the resort upgraded and expanded its 105,000-square-foot meeting and event center space, including a 22,600-square-foot adjustable ballroom. It also features 27 state-of-the-art meeting rooms. The center can host events for upward of 2,500 people. A 31,600-square-foot exhibition hall can accommodate 200 exhibitors as well.
When not in meetings, attendees can visit the Wilstem Wildlife Park for an intimate view of grizzly bears, elephants and kangaroos; enjoy the Big Splash Adventure Hotel and Indoor Water Park; or take a ride on the French Lick Scenic Railway, a 20-mile historic train ride through Hoosier National Forest.