When people gather these days, it’s like long-lost friends reuniting after years away. There’s an enthusiasm that energizes the room; attendees are truly present after months of separation courtesy of COVID-19. The Twin Cities didn’t stand dormant over the past two years, and here’s a recap of projects and openings of interest to the meetings and events industry.

Reactivating landmarks

For more than 100 years, the Dayton’s building has been a downtown Minneapolis anchor serving as home to Dayton’s and Macy’s department stores and now The Dayton’s Project, a $350 million mixed-use redevelopment. Spanning 12 stories and more than 1.2 million square feet, the plan includes office space, places to gather, retail and dining, including a 45,000-square-foot food hall curated by celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern slated to open later this year. 

One of the first areas completed was The Departments at Dayton’s, a makers market, featuring several Minnesota vendors that opened in November. Commercial tenants have access to The Dayton’s Project’s 10,000-square-foot fitness center, rooftop deck, private lounge, and library. On the meetings and events side, groups can rent the Winter Lounge, Summer Terrace and 3,700-square-foot conference center, including a large classroom for up to 121 guests and boardroom that holds a maximum of 20. 

Another former Dayton’s and Macy’s department store building, this one, constructed in the 1960s and located in St. Paul, also found new life as the multiuse Treasure Island Center. The 14,000-square-foot St. Paul Event Center, located on the second floor, opened in early 2020 just as the reality of COVID-19 was sinking in. Highlights include an open floor plan that can host up to 450 seated and 650 standing and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking downtown. Treasure Island Center also features Minnesota Wild hockey team’s practice facility, TRIA Rink, and several health and wellness businesses, Walgreens, and Pillbox Tavern.  

New hotel happenings

The launch of Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences Minneapolis this June means a host of options for meeting and event planners seeking high-end service, lodging, meeting space and amenities. Located in a new 37-story building at the top of Nicollet Mall and only a few blocks from the Mississippi River, the mixed-use complex also features a public plaza and office space.

With about 16,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor function space, business and social groups can book the 6,500-square-foot grand ballroom with an adjoining outdoor terrace, a second smaller ballroom and a series of meeting rooms. All meeting space is located on the second floor, except for an outdoor event terrace on the fourth floor along with a rooftop bar and grill, spa and fitness center. For pure relaxation, there are indoor and 
outdoor pools.

The 222 hotel rooms and suites occupy floors 22 through 30, providing elevated views, while Four Seasons Private Residences are found on the seven uppermost floors of the building. Anyone can enjoy a signature dining experience and lobby café helmed by James Beard award-winning chef Gavin Kaysen. 

Director of Marketing Chris White predicts that Four Seasons Minneapolis will play a key role in the city’s business meetings, social events, galas, weddings and upper-tier citywides. “This is a luxury, high-end, five-star property. For the board meetings that companies may have taken out of Minneapolis, they can now keep in the city,” he emphasizes. “We’ll fill the luxury niche but also be a good community partner.”  

Opening a 320-room, 14-story property in October 2020 wasn’t easy, but Omni Viking Lakes Hotel, located next to the Minnesota Vikings headquarters and training facility in Eagan, made the most of the situation. “It’s been a really fun process. We’ve had such great response and really amazing support from the city of Eagan and Twin Cities proper,” says Kathy Roberts, CPCE, director of catering and convention services. “We’ve done beautiful weddings, galas, sports activities and all styles of events.” 

In addition to 35,000 square feet of meeting space, there are six, two-story hospitality lounges stacked on top of each other, which allow organizations to still hold galas without using a ballroom but splitting groups into their own private suites instead, Roberts says.  

In addition, flexibility was extended to clients like the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which had an annual meeting scheduled for right after the hotel opened that was moved to November 2021. “The energy in the room was fantastic, people wanted to be there. New properties are fun for people to experience,” says Joan Rausch, CMP, director of special events for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. “People are really used to being at home, and we have to give them a reason to come out of their houses.”

The Omni’s design and aesthetic draws inspiration from Scandinavian and Nordic culture while weaving in Minnesota’s heritage throughout, including the spa, fitness center, pool, lounge, lobby bar, coffee shop and signature restaurant led by James Beard award-winning chef Ann Kim. 

To help showcase the hotel and all the unique options, the Omni was part of Winter Skolstice held this year from Jan. 3-Feb. 27 at Viking Lakes, a 200-acre, mixed-use master development. Free skating was available on an ice rink constructed on the Omni’s patio, and a warming house, pond hockey, curling and sledding also were part of the fun.  

Like the Omni, Rand Tower Hotel, a Marriott Tribute Portfolio Hotel, opened during the heart of the pandemic lockdown in December 2020. The meticulously restored 1929 Art Deco building located in downtown Minneapolis is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The $110 million project resulted in a boutique hotel named after Rufus Rand Jr.—a visionary industrial giant, aviator, and war hero—and outfitted with 270 rooms and suites, 3,750 square feet of meeting and event space, a fifth-floor rooftop bar (Rand Tower Club) and a lobby bar with French flair (Whiskey & Soda). Rand Tower Hotel captures the essence of Rand’s lifelong curiosity across multiple disciplines. 

“From the outset, we fell in love with this building, its namesake hero, and the opportunity to bring an emotional, multidimensional narrative to life through the public areas, guest rooms and food and beverage outlets,” says Ron Swidler, chief innovation officer of The Gettys Group, a hotel design and development firm. “As Rufus Rand Jr. lived stories worthy of retelling, we have crafted a hotel experience worthy of exploring and sharing.” 

Places to sip and sup

For food and beverage, two new places well-suited for groups are The Market at Malcolm Yards and O’Shaughnessy Distilling, both launched in August 2021 and located in Minneapolis’ Prospect Park neighborhood. 

The Market at Malcolm Yards food hall, located in the historic Harris Machinery Co. building, is an ideal venue for satisfying the tastes and dietary needs of a wide range of attendees and checking off all the cool vibe boxes. Nine cuisine concepts from experienced and upcoming chefs provide diverse flavors, while Boxcar Bar and a self-pour wall with 48 taps offers the goods to toast the end of a productive day. Rent the entire market for a private event of up to 1,000 guests or book The Blueprint Room, The North Patio or The Machine Shop, which is separate from the rest of the market and is ideal for groups of 20 to 100.  

The food hall is only steps away from both Surly Brewing Co.’s Beer Hall and Beer Garden and O’Shaughnessy Distilling Co. It must be the luck of the Irish and a healthy shot of smart business sense that led cous ins Patrick and Michael O’Shaughnessy to lure Irish master distiller Brian Nation away from Jameson and his homeland to craft American whiskey using the traditional Irish triple distillation style. 

While three large copper pots are at the heart of 15,000 square feet of space devoted to making whiskey, O’Shaughnessy Distilling Co.’s Whiskey Lounge is where indulging in great whiskey, handcrafted cocktails and small plates happens. The lounge has three distinct sections—Keeper’s Heart main bar, Potato Bar and The Keep—and an outdoor mezzanine, making it easy for groups to gather. Tours also are available.  

In St. Paul, check out The Gnome, which occupies a historic brick firehouse on Selby Avenue that previously housed The Happy Gnome. Restauranteurs Brian and Sarah Ingram opened the craft pub in August 2020, enlarging the patio, redesigning the main floor, and creating an upstairs event space and beer hall with pool, darts, and shuffleboard.  

Parklike settings

Sustainability and a broad range of uses are at the heart of the newly redesigned Minneapolis Convention Center Plaza located on the south side of downtown. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held last fall to celebrate the 2.5-acre plaza built atop an underground parking ramp. The updated space features a lawn area for events, updated lighting and new walkways and seating options. 

The plaza also is an urban meadow planted with native tree and plant species to create downtown’s largest pollinator refuge and irrigated by the convention center’s stormwater capture system.  

Crystal Court, the 23,000-square-foot urban park inside the 57-story IDS Center, was renovated during the pandemic and reopened last summer. The event space and courtyard are modeled after a historic Italian piazza with special touches like black olive trees, a cascading water fountain, numerous benches and an eight-story atrium that spills in natural light. Crystal Court sees about 50,000 visitors per day and is a favorite spot for community celebrations, nonprofit events, Hollywood movie sets and more. 

Gatherings with an entertainment twist

Built in 1927, the nonprofit Capri Theater is the last of 13 theaters once located on the north side of Minneapolis. Reopened in October after a total renovation, the theater has retained its intimate feel, features new seating and an expanded lobby, and holds a maximum of 255. Paradise Community Hall is ideal for staging smaller events and productions for up to 125, and the new Anne & Jim Long Conference Room works well for smaller meetings. Or head outdoors to The Plaza with tables, benches, and amphitheater-style seating.  

Celebrating its 30th anniversary in August, Mall of America in Bloomington, the largest shopping and entertainment complex in North America, continues to add new options for groups like B&B Theatres, The Fair on 4 (go-karts, axe throwing, food and drink) and Tactical Urban Combat (laser and nerf tag). Since 1992, Mall of America has hosted thousands of events including concerts, community happenings, brand activations, celebrity appearances, and more, and grown to 5.6 million square feet. 

Anchorage is a city like none other—making it a popular choice for hosting meetings and events.

Through the tall windows of the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage, meeting attendees can gaze out toward Cook Inlet, which stretches all the way to the Gulf of Alaska and toward mountains—some snow-capped—representing several ranges. They may even see an eagle fly by or see one of the 1,500 moose that are said to roam Alaska’s largest city. It’s easy to see why it’s said that Anchorage is a city like none other in the United States.

 

Life at the lake is a dream full of gorgeous views, activities on the water, and a sense of peace you can’t quite seem to find anywhere else. But, more often than not, these perks come at the cost of a road trip, a lack of amenities, and sometimes even lousy Wi-Fi.

But in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, just 20 minutes from downtown Minneapolis, both Wayzata and Excelsior offer groups the comforts of the city as well as the lure of the lake, thanks to downtown districts located within steps of the shoreline.

 

Sometimes you need food and beverage on wheels for convenience or a memorable touch to get attendees talking. We found creamy homemade ice cream, delicious java, beautifully spun cotton candy, and gorgeous boxed platters that are mobile.

 

Coffeehouse flair