by Barbara Beckley | January 01, 2016

This time of year, a unique weather pattern called the lake effect can result in large accumulations of snow across Ohio and into Indiana. Though the snowfall can be heavy at times, these states are prepared, and as the snow comes down, the landscapes are transformed into a wonderland of white.

One could compare the hospitality infrastructure here to the way locals handle the winter weather: with experience, assuredness and an eagerness to dazzle visitors, no matter the season. To be sure, association planners that look to this region are bound to enjoy the biggest charm of the Great Lakes effect-the way something that seems overwhelming can be shaped into an amazing event.

Indianapolis & lawrenceburg: Proven Track Records

"We've really settled into Indianapolis," said Jay McAninch, president and CEO of the Archery Trade Association. "We've been meeting here over the past 15 years, and after our 2015 show, we contracted with Indianapolis for seven out of the next nine years."

The reason? There are many, according to McAninch, including the customer service by staff at both the convention center and Visit Indy. "Indy gets it. For example, our delegates are doing business during the show and want quick and simple meals, so the convention staff sets up food courts on the convention floor and even wheels box lunches down the aisles."

The city's largest venue is the Indiana Convention Center & Lucas Oil Stadium, with more than 749,000 square feet of exhibit space. It's connected via skywalk to the Indianapolis Artsgarden; the year-old Le Méridien/Indianapolis, with five meeting spaces; and the newly renovated Westin/Indianapolis, which has its own event space.

Other venues include the Indiana Roof Ballroom, the Indiana State Museum, the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians & Western Art and the Indianapolis Zoo. Sports-themed venues include the NCAA Hall of Champions & Conference Center and Victory Field. Other sites include D'Amore in the Chase Tower, the Mavris Arts & Event Center and the Central Library.

Historic venues include the recently renovated Crowne Plaza/Indianapolis Downtown and the Columbia Club. Two blocks away is the Conrad/Indianapolis, which recently debuted four high-end suites dubbed The Collection, with a private lobby for entertaining. And, looking ahead, the Old City Hall will undergo a multimillion-dollar renovation and is scheduled to open in late 2017 as a 21c Museum Hotel, with meeting space, an art museum and 150 guest rooms.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is undergoing a $100 million upgrade in preparation for the 100th running of the Indy 500 in May. Plans for an adjacent, multilevel go-karting facility to open in April will include an 8,000-square-foot restaurant and indoor and outdoor seating. About seven miles northeast, the Indiana State Fairgrounds has a redesigned, 8,200-seat coliseum.

Delegates flying into the city can utilize Indianapolis International and the new BlueIndy, an all-electric car share service, for getting around. With stations located throughout the city, the service is convenient and cost-effective.

With all of the improvements in recent years, it's little surprise that 2014 was a record-breaker, according to Visit Indy. And the future looks bright, with 880,552 convention hotel-room-nights booked for upcoming dates. The National Future Farmers of America is hosting its convention and expo in Indianapolis from 2016 through 2024, an event that draws approximately 64,000. And in 2017, the city plans to welcome the North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference and the American Veterinary Medical Association Annual Convention. Other groups that have booked meetings in town include the American Academy of Physician Assistants and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Southeast of Indianapolis on the border with Ohio, Lawrenceburg offers the brand new Lawrenceburg Event Center with more than 37,000 square feet of meeting space. The facility is connected to the new DoubleTree by Hilton, which features 168 guest rooms and views of the Ohio River. Both are located within walking distance of the Hollywood Casino, a riverboat gaming complex with restaurants and a nightclub. Additional venues include the Lawrenceburg Speedway and Sugar Ridge Golf Club.

Fort Wayne, Indiana: Keeping Up With Demand

According to Dan O'Connell, president and CEO of Visit Fort Wayne, the city has seen a steady increase in convention business since 2010, when the Grand Wayne Convention Center was expanded. Groups that plan to meet in town in the near future include the Indiana Music Education Association, the Association of Indiana Counties and the Federation of Genealogical Societies.

Fort Wayne, located at the junction of the Maumee, St. Joseph and St. Mary's rivers, is Indiana's second-largest city. The 225,000-square-foot Grand Wayne Convention Center is attached to two hotels-a Hilton and a Courtyard by Marriott-and is steps from the 3,000-seat Embassy Theatre and the 8,100-seat Parkview Field. The theater is adding new ballroom and rooftop garden spaces, scheduled to open in March as part of a $10 million renovation, and the ballpark is set to open a new, rooftop group-seating area called "The Summit" in time for the 2016 season. "We have a very tight, compact, efficient convention package," O'Connell said.

On the north side of the city, the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum complex features a divisible, 108,000-square-foot expo hall, a 13,000-seat arena with skyboxes and a new 27,000-square-foot conference center. The complex now offers more than 1 million square feet of space, making it northern Indiana's largest multipurpose venue and a favorite with organizations such as the North American Brass Band Association, Arrowhead Conferences & Events and HelmsBriscoe meeting planners.

Cleveland: Pulling Out All the Stops

Downtown Cleveland is on a roll, energized by its gold LEED-certified, 750,000-square-foot Cleveland Convention Center and the adjacent Global Center for Health Innovation. Both are a short walk from the Gateway District, a revitalized entertainment hub that has seen an influx of restaurants and nightlife over the last decade as biomedical engineering and healthcare corporations have poured in. But the city attracts many groups outside of the healthcare field, too. Recent visitors have included the American Chemical Society's Rubber Division, the Regional Airline Association and the National Association of Housing & Redevelopment Officials.

A handful of new hotels with meeting space are expected to open downtown this year. In February, the 122-room Schofield Hotel will open with 3,800 square feet of event space. The Drury Plaza Hotel, set to make its debut this spring within the historic Board of Education Building, is expected to offer 189 guest rooms and more than 3,900 square feet of space. And in June, the Hilton/Cleveland Downtown is scheduled to open adjacent to the convention center with 600 guest rooms, a 224-seat restaurant, a bar and 46,000 square feet of meeting space.

East of the city center, the new Holiday Inn/Cleveland Clinic is accepting reservations for arrivals on or after August 1; it will offer 276 guest rooms and reception space for up to 125. The Residence Inn by Marriott/Cleveland Downtown recently completed a renovation to its 1874 building, and in the suburb of Westlake, about 15 miles west of downtown, a new Hyatt Place has meeting space for up to 80 people.

Sports venues that also welcome association events include the Quicken Loans Arena; Progressive Field; and the 73,200-seat FirstEnergy Stadium, which is undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation.

At Cleveland State University, event venues include the Wolstein Center and the Great Lakes Science Center. And southwest of downtown, the International Exposition Center offers 2.2 million square feet of event space.

Greater Columbus: Meeting Goals

In 2014, the Ohio capital of Columbus reported its most successful meetings year in city history, with the Greater Columbus Convention Center hosting a record 2.5 million visitors. Officials hope that momentum will continue and are pouring $125 million into an expansion and renovation of the convention center, expected to earn its LEED certification when completed in July 2017. Plans include the addition of 36,000 square feet of exhibit space and more than 10,000 square feet of meeting space, which will boost the facility's total usable space up to some 2 million square feet. Existing space will be upgraded with new technology, sound systems and public art at both the convention center and adjacent Hyatt Regency. A new Columbus Visitor Center, outdoor café, event lawn and an 800-space parking garage are also part of the project.

When Minor League Baseball held its 2015 Promotional Seminar in Columbus, the event reported the largest attendance since 1998, with more than 400 attendees. "It's fitting that just after the Columbus Clippers won the 2015 International League Governors' Cup, Minor League Baseball officials were the first guests to attend events in the first section of our renovated meeting space," said John R. Page, manager of the convention center. Other successful events held at the venue last year include the Materials Science & Technology Conference, the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association's Midwest Veterinary Conference and the Ohio Dental Association's Annual Session.

In October, the Columbus Museum of Art debuted a new 50,000-square-foot wing and sculpture garden. The project created nine new and expanded event areas, which include a pavilion for up to 500 people, a lobby for receptions of up to 300 and a 288-seat auditorium.

North of downtown, in the Short North Arts District, Le Méridien Columbus, The Joseph opened a year ago. Ohio State University also has several event spaces, including the Blackwell Inn, Mershon Auditorium and the Ohio Union. One unique space is Bluestone, a turn-of-the-century Baptist church that's now an event venue. Other major venues for events are the Ohio Expo Center, Nationwide Arena and the Center of Science & Industry (COSI). Just north of COSI, construction has begun on the $55 million Ohio Veterans Memorial & Museum on the site of the former Franklin County Veterans Memorial. It is expected to open in early 2017 with event space.

Cincinnati: Winning Ways

"Cincinnati is a great Midwest location," said Larry Collins, managing director and meeting planner for the North American Christian Convention, which draws 6,500 attendees. "The CVB's support and flexibility has allowed us to partner with Cincinnati for our 2008, 2011 and 2015 events and beyond. We feel welcome each time we meet in Cincinnati."

The Duke Energy Convention Center, Cincinnati's largest venue, offers more than 750,000 square feet of space and recently completed a number of updates. It's connected via skywalk to the Millennium, Hyatt Regency and the Hilton Netherland Plaza.

Cincinnati's investment in change is also exciting to attendees. As Collins noted, "The city is expanding and transitioning each year." Among the new hotels popping up are the 105-room Homewood Suites and 144-room Hampton Inn & Suites, both located in the historic Cincinnati Enquirer Building, which completed a multimillion-dollar renovation last spring. The properties share some 6,200 square feet of meeting space. A 117-room Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites/Downtown is under construction a half mile from the Horseshoe Casino, which has 33,000 square feet of convention space. Two hotels are in the planning stages: a 160-room hotel to go up within the 1916 Duttenhofer Building, and a 106-room Autograph Collection Hotel by Marriott in what was formerly the Anna Louise Inn in the Lytle Park Historic District. And the Residence Inn/Cincinnati Downtown recently expanded its Top of the Park rooftop terrace, which can now accommodate groups of up to 90 people.

Business is also booming in the revitalized Over-the-Rhine Entertainment District (or the OTR). Two 19th-century churches have been transformed into event venues: the Transept, available for groups of up to 600, and Taft's Ale House, featuring a microbrewery and restaurant. The Rhinegeist Brewery opened two private event spaces totaling more than 8,000 square feet. The eight-acre Washington Park is home to the 6,200-square-foot Music Hall Event Plaza, a lawn that can host up to 10,000 and a stage. On the northwest side of the park, Music Hall has a 3,500-seat main theater as well as smaller spaces.

Less than two miles south is the Banks Entertainment District, developed along the Ohio Riverfront. Groups can meet at Smale Riverfront Park's new Anderson Pavilion, a banquet and conference center that can host upwards of 350, or at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which has space for up to 400. In 2017, a 165-room AC Hotel is expected to open with a rooftop bar and small meeting space. Highly anticipated is a new electric streetcar system, which is scheduled to begin passenger service in September. Its 3.6-mile loop will connect the Banks to the OTR and downtown.

North of the city, in Sharonville, a 120-room Hyatt Place is under construction next to the 65,000-square-foot Sharonville Convention Center. Plans include 2,000 square feet of function space and an indoor swimming pool.

Little Things That Make a Difference

In Indiana and Ohio, hospitality professionals know that associations come for business, but return because of the favorable experience. It's the details that planners and attendees remember: a gathering on a ballfield, box lunches wheeled around a trade-show floor, a beer crafted from local ingredients. These are the impressions that count.