As the saying goes, what’s old is new again. When it comes to meetings and events, this adage rings true in more ways than one.
After two years of cancellations, postponements, and remote conferences over Zoom, meeting in person is the hottest new trend. “There’s a lot of excitement about meeting again,” says Bridget McCoy, business development manager for Visit Saint Paul. “It is something that people missed. They are ready to get back together and be with each other in real life.”
To make those much-anticipated reunions even more special, meeting planners are looking for new and unique experiences—which sometimes means meeting in a historic hotel, museum, or other locale that exudes old-fashioned charm and one-of-a-kind touches.
“This may be your first time seeing people in two years,” McCoy says. “You want to do it somewhere different, add something that has a unique and fun environment.”
From Ely to Rochester, Minnesota’s meeting business is back with pent-up demand translating into a successful first quarter and a positive outlook for the rest of the year and into 2023. If you’re looking for a venue that will delight your guests with old-school ambiance and fascinating ties to the past, look no further than these historic landmarks.
With two downtowns and a major airport, the Twin Cities is a popular destination for meetings and events. St. Paul, in particular, bursts with historic charm.
Downtown, the castle-like Landmark Center is one of the city’s most recognizable buildings since it opened in 1902 as a courthouse and post office. Inside, the five-story skylit atrium is flanked by marble pillars and is a popular space for large events. Smaller groups can reserve one or more of the courtrooms or the 230-capacity auditorium.
Kitty-corner to the Landmark Center is The Saint Paul Hotel, which opened in 1910 and is known for hosting the likes of Charles Lindbergh, Gene Autry, and former President Bill Clinton. Several unique spaces, from the eight-person Cedar Room to the chandelier-topped Promenade Ballroom for up to 200 classroom-style attendees, can be reserved for meetings.
New on the scene, the Celeste of St. Paul Hotel + Bar opened in 2019 in the former St. Agatha’s Conservatory of Music and Art. The renovation retained much of the school’s architectural elements and artwork, including beautiful woodwork and stained-glass windows. Book the Boardroom for meetings up to 14 or the semiprivate Parlor for a social event of 20 or fewer.
Other time-honored venues worth seeking out in St. Paul include Union Depot in Lowertown, the Minnesota History Center on the outskirts of downtown, and Saint Paul Brewing on the city’s East Side in the former Hamm’s Brewery.
Head west across the Mississippi River, and you will find even more fascinating history and culture. Minneapolis takes great pride in its past as the flour-milling capital of the world, and nowhere is that fact more celebrated than at the Mill City Museum. Built within the ruins of the Washburn A Mill, the striking building mixes contemporary upgrades with historic integrity. The most iconic area is the outdoor courtyard, with three indoor conference rooms for meetings of six to 40 people overlooking the space.
Two blocks away and born out of the same industry, the Minneapolis Grain Exchange building is now home to Fueled Collective. For the first time, the distinguished trading floor, with its 42-foot ceiling and Palladian windows, can be reserved for events of up to 200 guests. A variety of meeting spaces are available, including the 30-person classroom that was formerly the VIP lounge for grain traders.
The Depot, a major stop on the Milwaukee Road line, saw its last train in 1971. Now housing the Minneapolis Renaissance Hotel, the landmark building features 23 event rooms and 12 breakout rooms for a total of over 70,000 square feet of event space. The hotel has 335 guest rooms, the Milwaukee Road Restaurant & Bar, and the Hole in the Wall speakeasy-inspired lounge.
For a look into Minneapolis’ Nordic heritage, the American Swedish Institute is unique for its combination of the historic Turnblad Mansion and the contemporary Nelson Cultural Center. Both buildings and the courtyard between them are available for presentations, receptions, and other events.
Minnesota’s third-largest city, Rochester, is best known as the home of the Mayo Clinic. The city has nearly 6,000 hotel rooms and an international airport. According to Joe Ward, president of Experience Rochester and the Mayo Civic Center, January 2022 was one of the city’s busiest months for meetings and events on record.
Connected to the Mayo Clinic via a climate-controlled underground concourse, the Kahler Grand Hotel originally housed hospital services on five of its 11 floors. Today, it’s strictly a hotel and event venue, with 14 event spaces including executive boardrooms and elegant ballrooms. A block away, the iconic Chateau Theatre is a multipurpose venue and community space. It originally opened as a vaudeville and movie theater in 1927.
In Red Wing, the St. James Hotel has hosted meetings since its opening in 1875. There are nine meeting rooms with the biggest one accommodating up to 240 guests—including one very special ghost. Clara, one of the hotel’s longtime proprietors who died in 1972, is said to keep a watchful eye on the place to this day.
The northern half of the North Star State is synonymous with lakes and leisure—a place to go when you want to get away from it all. Why not combine the best of both worlds and hold your meeting at the lake?
In Walker, Chase on the Lake is celebrating 100 years of operation this year. Perched on the shoreline of beautiful Leech Lake, the resort’s Conference Center features the Chase Boardroom for up to 12 people, the Water’s Edge room for up to 40, and the Walker Bay Ballroom for a maximum of 210. Groups can dine at the on-site 502 Restaurant and stay overnight in one of the 69 hotel rooms or 43 condos.
To experience the charm of northern Minnesota’s small towns, the Historic Holmes Theatre in downtown Detroit Lakes is a great choice. Buy out the ballroom for a large reception or lecture of up to 400 people or consider classroom seating for 200. The smaller conference room holds up to 35.
Additional historic options “up North” include the Northern Pacific Center in downtown Brainerd, Grand View Lodge on Gull Lake in Nisswa, Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge in Bemidji, and Society Hall on the second floor of Northern Grounds in Ely.