At the south end of America’s heartland, between the Mississippi River and the Great Plains in the near South, Arkansas’ cities lie in wait for planners looking to give their small meetings something unique and expected.
Known to many as the birthplace of Wal-Mart, Bentonville is still home to Sam Walton’s original Five and Dime, now the Wal-Mart Visitor Center. But thanks to the Waltons’ bolstering of the local community, supporting everything from small street fairs on the square to a world-class museum, the square it lines is a very different place now than it was when Walton first opened the store in 1950.
One of the biggest changes to the downtown landscape is the 21c Museum Hotel Bentonville, one of the first of a new chain of boutique hotels that combine a New York City-style contemporary art gallery with an urban luxury hotel. The Bentonville location includes 104 guest rooms and more than 12,000 square feet of meeting space, as well as a restaurant from James Beard nominee chef Matthew McClure.
Outside of downtown, there are many new or newly renovated properties that have come online recently or that will in the coming years, notably the newly opened Four Points by Sheraton Bentonville, with 11,298 square feet of meeting space; the 140-room DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel Bentonville, built in 2008, is also ideal for small meetings, with 8,960 square feet of event space. For day or evening events, the world-class Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, designed by award-winning architect Moshe Safdie, offers a stunning setting with a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces, a network of hiking trails weaving through the river gardens and a Frank Lloyd Wright home opening in November 2015.
Because of the Wal-Mart culture, Bentonville has an unusual meeting partner that can make it ideal for planners looking for dates that are hard to book in other Arkansas areas, especially during the summer or fall foliage season. “Wal-Mart meetings happen all the time, but primarily on Tuesday, Wednesday and often Thursday; so, for weekends, we’re really competitive, while midweek can be intense and often booked up,” said Darrel Harvey, meetings and services manager for the Bentonville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Like a UNESCO-protected Tuscan hill town that tells stories from other eras with every inch of its walls and buildings, the entire town of Eureka Springs has found its way onto the U.S. National Register of Historic Places because of its long history as a spa town dating back to pre-European times.
Beyond its spas, Eureka Springs is best known on the leisure side for its arts community, which has given rise to a downtown free of chain retailers and that offers many team-building options for planners. The Eureka Springs School of the Arts, on the edge of town near the Blue Spring Heritage Center, can host groups for private workshops in many forms of art, including metalworking and woodworking.
For meetings, Eureka Springs has one primary conference center: the 18,000-square-foot Inn of the Ozarks Convention Center attached to the 122-room Best Western Inn of the Ozarks. But other meeting and event space is available in locations unique and unusual, from the 1888 Mud Street Café, located at the town’s original street level, and “America’s Most Haunted Hotel,” as the 1886 Crescent Springs Hotel and Spa bills itself. The hotel, which is located at the highest point in the county, has 76 guest rooms and 5,400 square feet of indoor meeting space, including a 1,313-square-foot conservatory looking out of Eureka Springs and the Ozarks, and 15 acres of outdoor space.