About a 90-minute drive from Minneapolis, Rochester sits on the banks of the Zumbro River and offers a distinct blend of quiet suburb and fast-paced innovation. The city of more than 100,000 is the famed home of the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, which itself brings more than 2 million people to the city each year. But those who only know Rochester as a medical mecca are in for a pleasant surprise.

“We’ve had such profound change here in the last couple years,” says Brad Jones, executive director of the Rochester Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Folks that haven’t been here in a couple of years are shocked at how the downtown scene has changed,” agrees Erin Okins, event sales associate at the Mayo Civic Center. The myriad upgrades to the city will also surprise guests. Highlighted here are just a few of the many venues and services Rochester offers.

At 120,000 square feet, the Mayo Civic Center is the largest event facility in southeastern Minnesota. Its new two-floor expansion will include a 40,000-square-foot ballroom and 14 breakout rooms, but the extra space doesn’t affect the staff’s focus on personal connections with clients. “The Mayo Civic Center prides itself on providing superior customer service,” Okins says. “We feel that we are in it together, and I believe that’s what sets us apart.” In addition to both large and small meeting areas, the adjacent Mayo Park offers a perfect space for a little fresh air between sessions.

Another great choice—especially for social events—is the Rochester Event Center,
boasting the largest ballroom in the area with space for up to 1,050 theater-style. The 13,000-square-foot space can be tailored to small or large events, and has a free parking lot, making the center both customizable and convenient.

Boasting a recent extensive renovation, the Wood Lake Meeting Center features nine meeting rooms, which can accommodate up to 250 people. “We completely shut down and gutted the facility,” says Nicole LaChapelle, marketing manager. “We implemented upgrades and improvements based on input from clients.” The new space is flexible, allowing for large or small events, even within the same day. “We really focus on business users and education events,” says LaChapelle, highlighting the sound systems, flexible catering options and videoconferencing capabilities of the spaces at the venue.

Only 15 minutes from the center of Rochester, Garten Marketplatz Perennial Farms can serve as both a unique outing and venue for your guests. Perennials and greenery are for sale at the 10-acre farm, but the serene gardens are the real draw. From June through September, the entire farm can accommodate large crowds. While the 130-seat garden pavilion is ideal for a post-meeting reception, the more intimate Garden in the Round is perfect for photo opportunities and smaller events. 

Rochester was founded in 1854, and the History Center of Olmsted County keeps the stories that built the city alive. The Crawford Room can hold up to 80 people and a lecture area has space for 120 guests, plus about 5 acres of the outdoor area is used for events.

A hidden gem in Rochester is Studio 324. The brick building was built in 1867 and has served as a bakery, café and antique store. Today, it functions as a photography studio for owners Shawn and Michelle Fagan. The couple decided to offer the space for events after visitors kept commenting on how interesting the studio was (they’ve since moved the photography studio to the second floor). The space can host about 80 for a seated meal and up to 100 for a cocktail reception. Guests will love the wood floors and brick walls.

Conveniently located in the skyway-connected DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Rochester – Mayo Clinic Area downtown, Pescara is one of the highest-rated restaurants in Rochester. Known for its award-winning heated, outdoor patio and lounge, Pescara carries more than 130 bottles of wine and offers private dining for up to 40 guests. An in-house floral designer is an added bonus.

Situated about 10 minutes west of Rochester, Somerby Golf Course is ideal year-round for golfers and nongolfers alike. The 10-year-old facility boasts a ballroom with floor-to-ceiling windows, a capacity for 330 seated and a deck that can hold about 200. A boardroom that fits up to 16 is also available. “We are one of the bigger venues around and definitely one of the most scenic,” says Trina Thompson, director of catering, sales and events. Those interested in booking an event do not need to be members of the golf course, but if planners want golf to be a part of the event, they are restricted to Mondays for fundraising events and Thursdays for groups up to 36.

Along with medicine and technology, hospitality is one of the biggest industries in the city. The 82-room Aspen Suites is a 2013 winner of TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence Award, given to establishments that receive outstanding reviews on the site. General Manager Laurel Schacht says, “Exceptional service is the key to the Aspen Suites’ success.” Another well-known option is The Kahler Grand Hotel, connected to the skyway and offering 660 guest rooms, a domed rooftop pool and 30,000 square feet of event space right downtown.

No matter which venue, outing, and lodging option you choose, the service in Rochester won’t let you down. “The No. 1 things planners look for in a location is connectivity and convenience,” says Jones, “and Rochester definitely has that.”

Kate Sidoti is a private chef, plant-based caterer and owner of Brim.

 

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