2016 Best of Awards Editor Picks

Visit Saint Paul

This isn’t your grandparents’ St. Paul. Don’t get it twisted, the preservation of the capital city’s rich history makes it identifiable to your ancestors dating back to the mid-1800s, but things have changed, especially in the past couple years.

An influx of new hotels has recently pumped fresh life into St. Paul’s meetings and events scene. The state’s only InterContinental hotel completed a $40 million renovation (including 43,000 square feet of meeting space) in November 2015; Hyatt Place (2,942 square feet of meeting space) opened this past September; and Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown St. Paul (2,000 square feet of meeting space) followed this past November. “There is major excitement around the MLS soccer stadium as well as the new Minnesota Wild practice facility in the former Macy’s location,” adds Adam Johnson, vice president of marketing and media relations, Visit Saint Paul.

Its meetings marketing campaign, using the hashtag #hipstorical, says it all. “St. Paul is rich with history from the first settlers via the Mississippi River, several styles of unique architecture and our storied gangster past,” Johnson says. “But we also have hip amenities that we know people are looking for such as free Wi-Fi in our convention complex, the ride sharing economy throughout the city, a flourishing music scene and second-to-none sustainability initiatives.” —Bobby Hart

James J. Hill Center

Classics are classified as such for a reason. Open to the public since 1921, James J. Hill Center is approaching 100 years as a living monument to Empire Builder James J. Hill, a St. Paul landmark and, of course, a stunning event venue.

“The Hill has been and continues to be a gathering place for the ambitious, the creative and the industrious,” says Lily Shaw, the center’s director of marketing. “It sets an inspirational backdrop for either the most romantic day of your life or where professionals can come together to shape their future.”

The only remaining free-functioning nonprofit business reference library in the nation offers a variety of unique event spaces. The library’s largest and most popular space, the 6,500-square-foot Reading Room can fit 250 people (325 standing) in an awe-inspiring environment with architectural marvels such as soaring ceilings, giant pillars and walls lined with books. “You are literally surrounded by history and success,” Shaw says.

This past year, the center welcomed new executive director Tamara Prato, who has over 20 years of successful management, community commitment and marketing experience. “With her leadership, the organization has been able to refocus and re-energize for the future,” Shaw says. In April 2017, the library is expecting to finish an elevator project that will grant guests brand new access to all levels of the venue. However, the library’s historic charm and nonprofit roots will remain unaffected, firmly entrenched in Rice Park and the downtown St. Paul community. —Bobby Hart

McNamara Alumni Center

As the first employee hired when McNamara Alumni Center opened in 2000, Director of Marketing and Sales Amy Leyden has a unique perspective on the evolution of the University of Minnesota venue. She’s seen it blossom in event space size, capabilities and annual events hosted in 17 years, but she calls her talented team McNamara’s “most distinguishing characteristic.”

“Our team is terrific,” says Leyden, who says that she receives an average of 150 applications for event coordinator positions, allowing her to hire the cream of the crop. “I have high standards and hire only those who enjoy delivering superior customer service to clients. In 2016, our small team of seven people facilitated 860 events and received an average customer service rating of 4.92 out of 5.0. I am very proud of that fact.”

Leyden says McNamara’s most marketable feature is the stunning architecture throughout its 36,000-square-foot conference center, which includes 10 rooms all on the first floor. With space for 500 guests seated, the 12,000-square-foot Memorial Hall is known for its 90-foot ceiling, 7 miles of hemlock wood, copper “cliffs,” water feature and an abundance of natural light—all meant to reflect Minnesota’s varied landscape.

In the past year, McNamara has hosted some important VIP events, including the Hillary for America campaign, Governor Dayton’s State of the State Address, and the USA – European team dinner for the Ryder Cup. —Bobby Hart

Hewing Hotel

Ever wish you could live an Instagram photo? The Hewing Hotel might be the closest you’ll come to occupying one of those dreamy square images.

Jenai Sele, director of sales, describes the North Loop boutique hotel as an “upscale log cabin,” and it is all Minnesota. The interior design is rich with idyllic touches, from the Nordic-inspired wallpaper custom design by ESG to the Faribault Woolen Mill throws and coffee cup sleeves. It’s the details full of locality you’ll fall in love with at the Hewing, and you’ll be hard pressed to not to snap a photo, choose a filter and share with your (inevitably envious) followers.

You might find yourself going #nofilter, though, for the hotel’s influx of natural light. The building, dating back to 1897, was originally used as a farm implementation showroom and warehouse. The main level used to be the showcase for farm equipment—“which is why we have such great large windows at the front of the building,” notes Sele.

The dishes at the Hewing’s on-site restaurant, headed by James-Beard nominated Chef Grae Nonas, are as delicious as they are photogenic. Tullibee is tradition meets modern, focusing on Minnesota’s culinary conventions like butchery, fermentation and foraging. There’s even a butcher room in the basement.

Meeting and event space includes a 3,000-square-foot ballroom, two boardrooms for 10 or 16, and two private dining options at Tullibee for 10 or 36. —Morgan Halaska

Radisson RED

The first rule at Radisson RED: There are no rules.

The flagship hotel in the U.S., Radisson RED Minneapolis is steering away from hotel norms and redefining the experience. Most noticeably, there’s no front desk. Rather, “Creatives” greet guests at the entrance. With the RED app, guests can check in/out, access their room (read: no keys) and order food from the kitchen. The 164-studio, pet-friendly hotel is designed to make guests feel more at home.

The first-level spaces flow into each other, creating a “social hive.” OUIBar + KTCHN’s space is punctuated with an Adam Turman mural, depicting Loring Park’s murder of crows.

Pingpong tables, games and Fatboy bean bag chairs fill the 1,000-square-foot Events & Games Studio. Furnished with a projector as well, the area can accommodate 74 guests classroom-style. Planners can use the studio however it suits their purpose, being able to choose to have the doors open to the lobby or not, or furnishing the room with nothing but the walls for attendees to write all over. —Morgan Halaska

Minnesota Meetings + Events is proud to introduce our 2019 Hall of Fame, made up of seven top-notch individuals who are positively impacting the meetings and events industry.


Minnesota Meetings + Events is proud to introduce our 2019 Hall of Fame, made up of seven top-notch individuals who are positively impacting the meetings and events industry.


Minnesota Meetings + Events is proud to introduce our 2019 Hall of Fame, made up of seven top-notch individuals who are positively impacting the meetings and events industry.