Indiana Ohio

In Tune With Meeting Planners

Sweet songs of praise are coming from planners who have recently decided to take their meetings to Indiana and Ohio. The convention and visitors bureaus, local hotels and event venues in these centrally located states know how to cater to groups with individually constructed agendas that are geared to impress each and every attendee.

Groups can find their rhythm at any number of venues in both Indiana and Ohio. Does this sound like music to your ears? Well, that’s the idea.

Central & Southern Indiana: Vibrant Vibes

Visitors to Indianapolis, Indiana’s state capital, can explore downtown on foot thanks to the Cultural Trail that passes near the convention center and runs into the city’s six cultural districts. Recent industry events have included the Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo International, which drew more than 500 exhibitors last year and is scheduled to return in 2014, and the Fire Department Instructors Conference, which attracted more than 30,000 attendees from 55 countries in 2013.

“Hoosier hospitality can be found at many great places throughout the city,” said Eric Schlett, FDIC executive director. “Hotels, restaurants and great shopping are all within walking distance of the convention center, which is a huge plus. During FDIC week, Indy has an energy that I’ve yet to find anywhere else.”

The American Coatings Association also chose Indy for its bi-annual American Coatings Show & Conference in 2012. “Indianapolis is a great location for our conference,” said Cheryl Matthews, the organization’s vice-president of events and professional development. “The Midwest is the nucleus of the coatings industry, and Indy has one of the best overall packages and can easily compete with any major city. Based on the great reviews from our attendees, we have already committed to returning to Indy in 2016 and 2018.”

The main hub for events of all sorts is the Indiana Convention Center, which has more than 566,000 square feet of exhibit space and approximately 140,000 square feet of meeting space. It’s connected to the 63,000-seat Lucas Oil Stadium, which hosted the Super Bowl two years ago and has 12 meeting rooms and 45,000 square feet of exhibit space. An indoor skywalk also links the convention center to the spectacular, glass-domed Indianapolis Artsgarden, which can be used for live performances, exhibits and other events. And just down the street is the historic Indiana Roof Ballroom, which was built in 1927 as a live music and dancing venue and can accommodate functions of up to 1,500 people.

If you have a head for heights, consider D’Amore, on the 48th floor of Chase Tower. It boasts a 360-degree view and 9,000 square feet of event space. Other notable local venues include the Mavris Arts & Event Center, which has space for up to 270, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which can host meetings in its 544-seat Tobias Theater. Harry & Izzy’s, an area steakhouse chain, has three locations in the city including its main downtown restaurant, which has a private dining room for up to 150 guests. The Central Library can host groups of up to 500. The Indiana State Museum has special-event space for up to 2,000, and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians & Western Art has a reception hall for up to 1,200.

At the Indiana State Fairgrounds, the 75-year-old coliseum has closed to undergo a $63 million renovation that’s scheduled to end in May and result in an 8,200-seat venue. It’s already been selected as the site of the National Future Farmers of America Convention & Expo in 2016. Another historic venue is the Columbia Club, which will celebrate its 125th anniversary in February. It has 25,000 square feet of space and can welcome groups as large as 400.

The 99-room Le Méridien Indianapolis Canterbury Hotel is expected to open in November and will occupy the site of the former Historic Canterbury Hotel after a $9.5 million renovation.

As far as existing hotels go, five interconnected properties are located at the downtown Marriott Place. The complex features a total of 2,248 guest rooms and more than 145,000 square feet of event space including the world’s largest JW Marriott, with 1,005 guest rooms and some 103,000 square feet of meeting space. The Westin recently began a $14 million renovation of its guest rooms, which is scheduled to finish in mid-February, and the Crowne Plaza/Indianapolis at historic Union Station, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and known for its 26 authentic Pullman train-car rooms, is on the verge of finishing an $8 million renovation of its own. It’s connected to the historic Union Station, which can be used for events of up to 2,500 guests.

In Muncie, 60 miles northeast of Indianapolis, Ball State University can host up to 4,000 attendees in its L.A. Pittenger Student Center, and up to 3,600 within Emens Auditorium. Also in town are the Horizon Convention Center, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year and has 47,000 square feet of space, and the Cornerstone Center for the Arts, with four spaces for functions, the largest of which is an auditorium for up to 1,000 people. To the southeast, in Richmond, the Townsend Community Center has a 500-seat theater, the Civic Hall Performing Arts Center offers groups a 936-seat auditorium and Earlham College welcomes meetings of up to 750 people.

Bloomington, 50 miles south of Indianapolis, is home to the Bloomington-Monroe County Convention Center, which offers 24,000 square feet of meeting space for up to 800 people. Indiana University has a range of venues including the Biddle Hotel & Conference Center, located in Indiana Memorial Union, and the 17,472-seat Assembly Hall.

Venture farther south to French Lick for more of a resort-retreat experience. In town, you’ll find the French Lick Springs Hotel, and in neighboring West Baden Springs, the West Baden Springs Hotel. Between the two sister properties, groups can take advantage of a 109,000-square-foot conference center.

The third-largest city in the state is Evansville. Large events are held at the Evansville Auditorium & Convention Centre (referred to as simply “The Centre”), which features 280,000 square feet of space. On the Ohio Riverfront, the Tropicana/Evansville (formerly Casino Aztar) has a 20,000-square-foot conference center and two hotels: the 250-room Tropicana and the 96-room Le Merigot. Other options in town include the 11,000-seat Ford Center, which opened in late 2011; the O’Day Discovery Lodge at Burdette Park with six three-bedroom chalets; and the Bauerhaus, with space for up to 550 attendees.

In Santa Claus, east of Evansville, you’ll hear sleigh bells jingling all year round. Attractions such as the Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, Santa’s Candy Castle and Santa’s Stables prove to be festive and fun any time of the year.

Historic attractions are five minutes away in Lincoln City, including the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. Nearby, groups can meet at the 1,500-seat Lincoln Amphitheatre. Another 15 miles east, the Benedictine monks of St. Meinrad offer a peaceful retreat spot: the Archabbey Guest House & Retreat Center, which completed a renovation last year. And just outside of Louisville, Kentucky, the Horseshoe Southern Indiana in Elizabeth is a casino-hotel.

Northern Indiana: Echoes of History

Along with its modern event facilities and hotels, the city of Fort Wayne offers plenty of historic attractions. The main venue in town is the 225,000-square-foot Grand Wayne Convention Center, which is attached to a Hilton Hotel. Also suitable for large events is the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum & Expo Center, which features 108,000 square feet of space. Another option is Parkview Field, home to minor league baseball’s TinCaps. The field offers several event areas and can seat up to 8,100 people.

South Bend, named for its position on the banks of the St. Joseph River, is 90 miles northwest of Fort Wayne on the Michigan border. Venues include the 95,000-square-foot Century Center and the 15,000-square-foot Gillespie Conference & Special Event Center, connected to a 100-room Hilton Garden Inn and adjacent to the Inn at St. Mary’s on the campus of St. Mary’s College.

Nearby is the University of Notre Dame, which hosts group events at the 20,000-square-foot Notre Dame Conference Center and at the Joyce Center, which has 464,800 square feet of space or can be configured to seat up to 11,418. The campus is also home to the Morris Inn, which has recently been renovated to the tune of more than $30 million.

Another historic site is the Studebaker National Museum and adjacent Center for History—collectively known as the Museums at Washington & Chapin—which offer tours as well as event space. Other landmark venues for events include Palais Royale, an 8,800-square-foot dance hall that was renovated in 2002, and the 2,564-seat Morris Performing Arts Center.

West Lafayette, a little more than 100 miles from either Fort Wayne or South Bend, is home to Purdue University. The campus’ options include the 6,005-seat Elliott Hall of Music; the Memorial Union, which has event space for up to 1,900 and houses the Union Club Hotel; and the Stewart Center, which can host groups as large as 500. For an interesting excursion, head north to Historic Prophetstown in Battle Ground; venues and tours include a replica Sears Roebucks home, a Native American settlement and a farmstead.

Northern Ohio: Rocking & Rolling

Almost everyone knows that Cleveland officially rocks. It’s home to the world-renowned Rock & Roll Hall of Fame & Museum, which can be hired out in its entirety for receptions of up to 2,500 people (spaces are available for smaller groups, too). Within walking distance is a newly renovated Hampton Inn, which has 1,200 square feet of event space of its own. Another star in its own right is the IX Center—the International Exposition Center—which features 2.2 million square feet of total event space, making it one of the country’s largest convention and exhibit facilities. Offerings include an 85,000-square-foot conference center with 26 meeting rooms and a 16,000-square-foot grand ballroom for up to 1,000 people.

In June, the 750,000-square-foot Cleveland Convention Center opened with silver LEED certification, and in October, the adjacent Global Center for Health Innovation (formerly known as the Medical Mart) saw its debut, though it is officially scheduled to open for public use in February. The two buildings are part of a $465 million project that encompasses one million square feet of space downtown. Plans were also recently announced for the construction of a new 650-room Hilton Hotel that will be connected to the center and feature its own 55,000 square feet of event space. The city plans to add a minimum of four new hotels over the next three years to support the development.

Groups can also convene at the city’s sports stadiums including the 73,200-seat FirstEnergy Stadium (formerly known as the Cleveland Browns Stadium), which is expected to begin a multimillion-dollar renovation this year; the 20,562-seat Quicken Loans Arena; and the 43,545-seat Progressive Field. At Cleveland State University, the Wolstein Center can host up to 15,000 people. Another local venue is the Great Lakes Science Center, which can accommodate events of 4,000 people.

If your attendees are longing for a little peace and quiet, Lake County, just to the northeast, is the place. In Kirtland, the 100-year-old Mooreland Mansion on the grounds of Lakeland Community College is a conference center. In Wickliffe, the Pine Ridge Country Club has a grand ballroom that can seat up to 300 guests. In Willoughby, groups of 400 people can gather at the 3,600-acre Holden Arboretum. Or hold your event at the 7,000-seat Classic Park, a baseball stadium in Eastlake.

In Akron, 40 miles south of Cleveland, the University of Akron offers several meeting spaces including the E.J. Thomas Hall, which can accommodate up to 2,955 people. Other choices in town include the Akron Art Museum, which can host groups of up to 600; the Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, a Tudor Revival estate built by Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company co-founder Frank Seiberling and able to host conferences of up to 200; historic Greystone Hall, which has event space for up to 306; and the nearby John S. Knight Center, with 76,660 square feet of meeting space.

Farther southwest, in the state’s Amish Country, groups will find space in Berlin at the Berlin Grande Hotel, which features 1,000 square feet of meeting space, and in nearby Walnut Creek at the Carlisle Inn, with event space for up to 475. Sandusky, located on the shores of Lake Erie and nearly equidistant from both Cleveland and Toledo, is home to the Kalahari Indoor Waterpark Resort & Convention Center.

In Toledo, the main meeting venue is the SeaGate Convention Centre. It has 75,000 square feet of meeting space and is connected to the Park Inn/Toledo. Within walking distance are the Imagination Station and the 8,943-seat Fifth Third Field, both of which can be used for group events. Other options include the Toledo Zoo, with event space for up to 1,000; the Toledo Museum of Art, with space for up to 350; the 8,000-seat Huntington Center; and the Event Center, which can host meetings of up to 300. The Dana Conference Center, located on the Health Science Campus of the University of Toledo, offers 19,000 square feet of space in conjunction with the Hotel at the University of Toledo Medical Center (formerly the Hilton/Toledo).

Just west of Toledo is the town of Sylvania, where groups can meet at the 36,000-square-foot Sylvania Tam-O-Shanter Sports & Exhibition Center or at the 850-seat Franciscan Theatre & Conference Center of Lourdes College.

Dayton & Columbus: Great Ideas Take Flight

Dayton is known as the Birthplace of Aviation. Attendees can marvel at the ingenuity and determination of the Wright brothers at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park or visit other attractions such as the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force (expected to begin an expansion this spring) and the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Downtown, the Dayton Convention Center offers more than 100,000 square feet of space. Other large venues include the 165,000-square-foot Hara Arena Complex & Exhibition Center; the Benjamin & Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center, which can accommodate events of up to 2,300; and in Vandalia, the Dayton Airport Expo Center, with 100,000 square feet of trade show space. In Wilmington, just southeast of Dayton, the Roberts Centre and connected Holiday Inn offer a combined 80,000 square feet of event space. Nearby, the 91-room Hampton Inn & Suites has small boardroom space.

Hitting the hospitality headlines in Columbus, the state capital, is the 2017 annual conference of the National Association of Counties, which is expected to draw up to 3,000 county officials and exhibitors. The main venue in the area is the Greater Columbus Convention Center, which has a grand total of 1.7 million square feet of space. Hotels with meeting space include the year-old Hilton/Columbus-Downtown and the renovated Crowne Plaza/Columbus North–Worthington, which recently upgraded its guest rooms and meeting space.

Organizations that have recently held events in town include the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials, which held its 2013 Standing Committee on Rail Transportation meeting at the Renaissance/Columbus Downtown in September with more than 170 attendees and participants, said Julianne Kaercher, public information officer for the Ohio Rail Development Commission. Kaercher said the group held a welcome reception on the hotel’s rooftop terrace and had an oompah band play. “It was the first week of Oktoberfest, so we planned the theme accordingly,” she said. “Food [came] from Schmidt’s in the German Village neighborhood and the Renaissance’s catering chef made specialties based on his German heritage.”

Kaercher said she thinks Columbus is one of the best U.S. cities in which to host a conference. “It combines a big-city feel with Midwestern hospitality. You can find everything here to entertain and wow visitors,” she said. One of her attendees, after going to a local music festival, told her, “Columbus is like the Austin of the Midwest,” and she couldn’t agree more: “Columbus has great food, great art, great facilities, great people and great music.”

One of the city’s more unique musical sites is Bluestone, a turn-of-the-century church that’s now a live music and special-event venue and can host groups of up to 1,800. Other notable venues in Columbus include the 360-acre Ohio Expo Center; Nationwide Arena, home rink of the National Hockey League’s Blue Jackets and designed with event space for up to 20,000; and the Franklin County Veterans Memorial, which features more than 145,000 square feet of meeting space including a 3,916-seat theater.

Groups of up to 750 can meet at the Ohio Statehouse. The Columbus Museum of Art, which broke ground last summer on a new 50,000-square-foot wing, remains open with space for up to 500. The Columbus Zoo & Aquarium can entertain up to 1,300, and the Center of Science & Industry can host gatherings of up to 5,000. Just north of downtown is Ohio State University, whose venues include the Blackwell Inn and 22,000 square feet of event space; the 2,477-seat Mershon Auditorium; and the silver LEED–certified Ohio Union with 300,000 square feet of space.

greater Cincinnati: Hit Makers

From the early days of James Brown to a flourishing indie-rock scene, Cincinnati has been sounding great for decades. It has also long been popular with meeting planners and association groups, including the National Parent Teacher Association and the Fraternal Order of Police, whose bi-annual conference in Cincinnati last year drew approximately 4,500 attendees booking 13,000 hotel room nights.

“We used numerous hotels, and numerous bars and restaurants held off-site parties and [offered] discounted meals for our delegates,” said Dan Kowalski, the conference’s co-chairman. “There were so many compliments from the delegates! They loved being close to everything, restaurants and bars, and mentioned how friendly people were.”

The biggest place to meet in the Queen City is the Duke Energy Convention Center with more than 750,000 square feet of function space. It’s connected via skywalk to a Millennium Hotel, a Hyatt Regency—which recently completed a $23 million renovation—and a Westin. Also recently renovated to the tune of $10 million was the landmark Hilton/Cincinnati–Netherland Plaza.

A new addition to Cincinnati’s meeting scene is the $400 million Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati, which opened downtown last year with almost 100,000 square feet of gaming space and some 33,000 square feet of banquet, event and convention facilities. Another new development is The Banks, an 18-acre entertainment area that’s within walking distance of the Central Business District.

A new Renaissance Hotel by Marriott is scheduled to open downtown in September following a $32 million renovation of the Bartlett Building. The property is expected to be awarded silver LEED status and offer 312 guest rooms.

Another historic building that’s being converted is the Cincinnati Enquirer Building, where construction on a 105-room Homewood Suites and a 144-room Hampton Inn & Suites is currently underway. Both properties are expected to be complete by early 2015. Additionally, plans have been approved for a new 117-room Holiday Inn downtown.

The 42,036-seat Great American Ball Park is home to MLB’s Reds and can host up to 2,500 for events. Adjacent is the U.S. Bank Arena, which can seat up 17,500. Paul Brown Stadium, where the NFL’s Bengals play, can seat more than 65,000 and has smaller function spaces for groups of up to 1,000. At Xavier University, the Cintas Center has an on-site banquet center with 12,000 square feet of space, or planners can turn to the University of Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Arena, which has 13,176 seats.

North of downtown, in Norwood, an expansion is under way at the Rookwood Exchange development, where the 123-room Courtyard/Cincinnati-Midtown opened last year. Farther north, in Sharonville, the Sharonville Convention Center has 65,000 square feet of event space.

Meet to the Beat

In Indiana and Ohio, meeting planners can incorporate all sorts of festive additions to their agendas that will get attendees dancing, singing and enjoying themselves—just the kind of easy networking that comes with a bit of song.