Just as plants need air, water and sunshine to thrive, association groups need to meet and share ideas to develop and grow. For years, destinations within Indiana and Ohio have proven to be fertile grounds and able hosts.
With a healthy dose of new developments, more than a sprinkling of Midwestern hospitality and plenty of space for groups to spread out and network, these two states have all the necessary know-how to help an event reach its full potential.
Central & Southern Indiana: Sowing Seeds of Success
Where better to host a meeting than the “Crossroads of America,” a place whose heritage was developed around the comings and goings of travelers? That’s one of the many appeals of the city of Indianapolis, which continues to improve with each passing year. All kinds of exploratory options are shooting up, from a walkable Cultural Trail that showcases the best of the capital city to a new bike-share program that allows visitors to cruise around neighborhoods on two wheels (more than 60,000 rides were taken in the program’s first five months), both easily incorporated into an agenda for a bit of pre- or post-meeting recreation and sightseeing.
What really stands out for planners, though, is the fact that there are so many exceptional places to meet. The largest venue is the Indiana Convention Center & Lucas Oil Stadium, with more than 749,000 square feet of exhibit space. It is connected via skywalk to the new Le Méridien/Indianapolis (formerly the Canterbury Hotel), which opened in December; the Westin/Indianapolis, which underwent a $14 million guest-room renovation last year; and the glass-domed Indianapolis Artsgarden, which hosts some 300 events each year. Nearby, the historic Indiana Roof Ballroom can accommodate up to 1,500.
Cultural destinations include the Indianapolis Museum of Art, with various spaces such as a sculpture garden for up to 1,000 people; the Indiana State Museum, with special-event space for up to 2,000; and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians & Western Art, whose reception hall can accommodate up to 1,200. The historic Union Station has event space for up to 2,500 people and is home to the recently renovated Crowne Plaza/Indianapolis Downtown, which features authentic Pullman-car guest rooms. Another historic venue and accommodation option is the Columbia Club, which has 25,000 square feet of space for groups as large as 400.
For unparalleled views, groups can meet on the top floor of the city’s tallest building, the 48-floor Chase Tower; its event venue, D’Amore, boasts 9,000 square feet of space. Other notable sites include the Mavris Arts & Event Center, which has space for up to 270; Harry & Izzy’s, an area steakhouse chain that has three locations in the city, including its main downtown restaurant, which has a private dining room for up to 150 guests; and the Central Library, which dates back to 1917 and can host groups of up to 700. Just north of downtown is the Indiana State Fairgrounds, which benefited from a $63 million renovation last year and now features a redesigned, 8,200-seat coliseum. The fairgrounds is scheduled to host the National Future Farmers of America Convention & Expo in 2016. Groups who have met in Indianapolis recently include the National Association of Broadcasters, the Indiana Bankers Association, the Emergency Nurses Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologists.
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.
Bloomington, 50 miles south of Indianapolis, is home to the Bloomington–Monroe County Convention Center, which has 24,000 square feet of meeting space for up to 800 people. Indiana University offers a range of group event venues including the Biddle Hotel & Conference Center, located within Indiana Memorial Union and designed with 189 guest rooms and 50,000 square feet of meeting space, and the 17,472-seat Assembly Hall, home to the school’s men’s and women’s basketball teams.
If you feel like surrounding yourself with a little more greenery, head out of the cities and toward French Lick. In town, you’ll find the 443-room French Lick Springs Hotel, and in neighboring West Baden Springs, the 243-room West Baden Springs Hotel. Between the two sister properties, groups can take advantage of a 109,000-square-foot conference center, a casino, two spas and a golf academy.
Evansville, in the southwestern corner of the state, is ideal for regional groups whose attendees hail from neighboring Tennessee and Illinois. Large events are held at the Evansville Auditorium & Convention Centre, which features 280,000 square feet of versatile space. On the Ohio Riverfront, the Tropicana/Evansville has a 20,000-square-foot conference center and runs two hotels: the 250-room Tropicana and the 96-room Le Merigot. Other options in town include the 11,000-seat Ford Center; the O’Day Discovery Lodge at Burdette Park; and the Bauerhaus, with space for up to 550.
In Santa Claus, east of Evansville, the mood is forever festive. Attractions such as Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, Santa’s Candy Castle and Santa’s Stables prove to be fun any time of the year. A host of historic attractions is just 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 particularly peaceful retreat spot: the Archabbey Guest House & Retreat Center, which completed an extensive renovation last year. And just outside of Louisville, Kentucky, is the Horseshoe/Southern Indiana in Elizabeth.
Northern Indiana: River Rush
Throughout history, groups have gathered near waterways and come up with developments that have shaped the future, and many of Indiana’s riverside towns and cities still offer an abundance of top spots for productive brainstorming sessions. In Fort Wayne, near the junction of the Maumee, St. Joseph and St. Mary’s rivers, the main venue is the 225,000-square-foot Grand Wayne Convention Center, which can host events as large as 3,000. It’s attached to a 246-room Hilton Hotel, which offers its own meeting space for up to 180 people and recently wrapped up a $5.2 million renovation. Last year, the convention center hosted the Indiana Society of Association Executives Convention as well as the Indiana Music Educators Association’s Professional Development Conference.
Also suitable for large events is the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum & Expo Center, which has 108,000 square feet of space and 5,000 parking spots. And another popular option is Parkview Field, home to the TinCaps, a Minor League Baseball team; the field offers several event areas and can seat up to 8,100 people.
Ninety miles northwest of Fort Wayne on the Michigan border is South Bend, developed on the St. Joseph River. Many events are held at the 95,000-square-foot Century Center and the 15,000-square-foot Gillespie Conference & Special Event Center on the campus of St. Mary’s College. Nearby, the University of Notre Dame welcomes group events at the 20,000-square-foot Notre Dame Conference Center and at the Joyce Center, which has 464,800 square feet of exhibit space or can be configured to seat up to 11,418. The historic Studebaker National Museum and adjacent Center for History offer tours as well as event space for up to 125. Other landmark venues include Palais Royale, an 8,800-square-foot dance hall that was built in 1922 and renovated in 2002, and the 2,564-seat Morris Performing Arts Center, built in 1921.
About 115 miles southwest of Fort Wayne, more historic and educational venues await in West Lafayette. Purdue University’s facilities 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 people.
Northern Ohio: Green Scenes
Over the past few years, the meetings infrastructure in Cleveland has been updated considerably. Main meeting sites now include the gold LEED–certified, 750,000-square-foot Cleveland Convention Center and the adjacent Global Center for Health Innovation (home to two colonies of honeybees!).Both downtown venues are part of a 1 million-square-foot development that also has space for future properties.
Southwest of downtown, right next to the international airport, 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.
New hotels include the Westin/Cleveland Downtown, and the Metropolitan at The 9, with 12 meeting rooms and a new lounge set to open in May. The historic Cleveland Board of Education Building downtown is being turned into a Drury Hotel, expected to open this fall with 180 guest rooms. And in 2016, plans call for the opening of a 122-room Kimpton Hotel, a 206-room Le Méridien and the 650-room Hilton/Cleveland Downtown, which will be connected to the convention center and will offer its own 55,000 square feet of meeting space.
A must-see attraction is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame & Museum, of course, which can be hired in its entirety for receptions of up to 2,500 people (spaces are available for smaller groups, too). Sports fans are catered to, as well: Venues include the 73,200-seat FirstEnergy Stadium (formerly the Cleveland Browns Stadium), which began a multimillion-dollar renovation last year; the 20,562-seat Quicken Loans Arena, with smaller meeting spaces for up to 400; and the 43,545-seat Progressive Field, which has special-event space for up to 700 attendees. At Cleveland State University, the Wolstein Center can host up to 15,000 people. The Great Lakes Science Center can accommodate groups of up to 4,000. The wide range of meeting spaces has attracted an equally wide range of groups including, more recently, the American Chemical Society’s Rubber Division, the American Optometric Association and the National Association of Housing & Redevelopment Officials.
While city attractions command most of the attention, there are plenty of places less than 30 miles away where groups can retreat amid the countryside. In Kirtland, to the east, the 100-year-old Mooreland Mansion on the grounds of Lakeland Community College is a state-of-the-art conference center with a dozen spaces for meetings. In nearby Willoughby, groups of up to 400 can gather at the historic, 3,600-acre Holden Arboretum. In Wickliffe, the Pine Ridge Country Club has a grand ballroom that can seat up to 300 guests as well as an 18-hole golf course. And in Eastlake, the 7,000-seat Classic Park, a baseball stadium, can be used for group functions.
In the city of Akron—located 40 miles south of Cleveland—the University of Akron offers several meeting spaces such as E.J. Thomas Hall, which can accommodate up to 2,955 people. Another popular stop is the Akron Art Museum, which can host groups of up to 600. Farther southwest, in the state’s Amish Country, the Berlin Grande Hotel in the town of Berlin features 1,000 square feet of meeting space, while the Carlisle Inn in nearby Walnut Creek has 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, with 215,000 square feet of event space. Sandusky is also famous as the home of the Cedar Point Amusement Park, which offers discounted group admissions.
In Toledo, the SeaGate Convention Centre is the hub for visiting conventions and trade shows; it has 75,000 square feet of meeting space and is connected to the Park Inn by Radisson/Toledo. Within walking distance are several attractions such as Imagination Station and the Toledo Mud Hens’ stadium, the 8,943-seat Fifth Third Field, both of which can be used for group functions. Other options include the Toledo Zoo, with event space for up to 1,000; the world-class Toledo Museum of Art, with space for up to 350; the 8,000-seat, LEED-certified 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 Radisson Hotel at the University of Toledo. Just west of Toledo, in the town of Sylvania, 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: Amiable Attendants
An expansion project is underway in Dayton. At the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, a fourth hangar is expected to open in 2016, housing presidential airplanes and a space exhibit. Groups can currently use the museum’s 400-seat theater for meetings.
Groups who have touched down in Dayton for events recently include the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors and the Winter Guard International, a youth performance organization whose world championships draw more than 12,000 participants and 40,000 spectators, according to Ron Nankervis, the group’s executive director and CEO. And in February, the Ohio Tree Care Conference will return to town. “Dayton is a great location due to its accessibility and affordability,” said Rhonda Weidman, its executive director. The event will be held at the downtown Dayton Convention Center, which offers more than 100,000 square feet of space, with attendees staying at the adjacent Crowne Plaza Hotel.
Other large venues around town include the downtown Benjamin & Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center, with space for up to 2,300; the Dayton Art Institute, which can host groups of up to 575; and the 165,000-square-foot Hara Arena Complex & Exhibition Center, located near Dayton International Airport. In nearby Vandalia, the Dayton Airport Expo Center features 100,000 square feet of trade show space. In Wilmington, about 30 miles southeast of Dayton, the Roberts Centre and connected Holiday Inn offer a combined 80,000 square feet of event space, and the nearby Hampton Inn & Suites has small boardroom space.
Columbus, the state capital, hosted more than 10,000 attendees during the 2014 Ohio School Boards Association Capital Conference & Trade Show, which took place at the Greater Columbus Convention Center last November. The center appeals to many groups due to its 1.7 million square feet of space. Other large spaces include the 360-acre Ohio Expo Center, home to the annual Ohio State Fair; 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, with more than 145,000 square feet of meeting space. One of the more unique options is Bluestone, a turn-of-the-century Baptist church that’s now an event venue for up to 1,800 people.
Construction is underway at the Columbus Museum of Art, which plans to debut a new 50,000-square-foot wing this fall; plans include larger special-event areas and a new restaurant. Until then, the museum remains open with function space for up to 500. Other attractions that double as event venues include the Greek Revival–style Ohio Statehouse, for groups of up to 750; the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, which can entertain up to 1,300 people; and the Center of Science & Industry, with gathering space for up to 5,000. Just north of downtown is Ohio State University, whose campus venues include the Blackwell Inn; the 2,477-seat Mershon Auditorium; and the silver LEED–certified Ohio Union, which has more than 300,000 square feet of available space.
Cincinnati: Ever Growing
Planners bringing their groups to Cincinnati often head straight to the Duke Energy Convention Center, which has more than 750,000 square feet of function space. The center is connected via skywalk to three hotels with meeting space, and last year the new Renaissance/Cincinnati Downtown opened three blocks from the convention center following a $32 million renovation of the historic Bartlett Building. Another downtown historic building that’s being converted is the Cincinnati Enquirer Building, which will house a 105-room Homewood Suites and a 144-room Hampton Inn & Suites. The two properties are expected to open this spring.
The Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati also piques the interest of planners and attendees thanks to some 33,000 square feet of convention facilities. Nearby, plans have been approved for a new 117-room Holiday Inn. Cincinnati is also a big-time sports town, and groups can catch a game or gather at its larger professional venues, all located downtown within a mile of each other: the Great American Ball Park, U.S. Bank Arena and Paul Brown Stadium.
North of downtown, Xavier University’s Cintas Center has 12,000 square feet of space or planners can turn to the University of Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Arena, which has 13,176 seats. Farther north, in Sharonville, the Sharonville Convention Center has 65,000 square feet of event space and 3,000 guest rooms nearby.
In Indiana and Ohio, groups can rely on the area’s DMOs to help coordinate meetings where ideas take root and flourish. And with new event venues and hotels, improved offerings and cultural sites that leave lasting impressions, planners can set up an agenda that best fits the needs of attendees.