Twin Cities residents often talk about heading "Up North," but there’s no need to take a three-hour road trip to experience nature and a plethora of activities. Just north of Minneapolis and St. Paul lies the Twin Cities Gateway, a region that encompasses nine communities (Anoka, Blaine, Coon Rapids, Fridley, Ham Lake, Lino Lakes, Mounds View, New Brighton and Shoreview), where biking and hiking trails (including the Mississippi River Regional Trail), parks and recreation are aplenty—as are galleries, golf courses and state-of-the-art meeting facilities.
“[The Gateway] is a nice mix of the urban experience with nature and outdoor recreation,” says Steve Markuson, director of the Twin Cities Gateway Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There are a variety of venues to accommodate any meeting that you might be considering.”
Most cities in the Gateway are easily accessible from Minneapolis and St. Paul within about 20 minutes via 35W, 694 and 10. And thanks to the 6-year-old Northstar Commuter Rail—which connects Anoka, Coon Rapids and Fridley to downtown Minneapolis—the trip has never been easier. Free parking is also widely available in the Gateway, a benefit Markuson cites along with the area’s proximity to the Twin Cities and easy freeway access.
For those looking to book a smaller event— and/or soak in a little of that culture and nature—Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts’ 168-year-old farmhouse setting is idyllic. The house, which also serves as an art gallery, is nestled along the Mississippi River adjacent to Manonin County Park. (A park pavilion is available to rent through Anoka County Parks and Recreation.) The large room on the center’s main floor holds 45 people, while the house’s many nooks and crannies (which have been used for everything from art classes to workshops to poetry readings) make for an intimate, peaceful setting for small groups. “This is a great space for retreats,” says Bethany Whitehead, Banfill-Locke’s executive director. “We’re located in the park so we have trails and picnic tables nearby.” While the center does not have a kitchen, food can be catered in, which allows those booking the space some freedom. Says Whitehead, “It’s ideal for those who like the flexibility and the quaintness.”
Just a few miles east on 694 lies Shoreview’s North Metro Meeting + Event Center, a onestop shop for meetings and events that is located in the same complex as a Hampton Inn (which will become a Best Western Plus in January 2016) and Green Mill restaurant. In April the complex completed a $10 million remodel that added 3,200 square feet to its already ample meeting space. The renovations included converting a former pool space into a 1,600-square-foot, 100-capacity prefunction area that features high ceilings and private restrooms, as well as the 1,600-square-foot Northwestern Room (which also holds up to 100). On-site and off-site catering is provided by Green Mill Catering, which changes its menu quarterly, offering plated lunches and dinners, serving stations, buffets and à la carte options. “We’re the full-service package,” explains Director of Catering Alaina Eckwright. “The linens, tables and other services are included, so you’re really just paying for what you consume.”
If getting attendees out of their seats—and keeping them full, happy and entertained— is on the agenda, Ham Lake’s picturesque Majestic Oaks Golf Club is the place to go. Located just north of Blaine with two 18-hole courses, the open-to-the-public club hosts golf tournaments and welcomes large groups to its dinner theater and Mystery Café (a comedy-mystery theater) in addition to traditional banquets, galas, conferences and celebrations in its three 3,000-plus-square-foot ballrooms—two of which can be combined to create the 7,025-square-foot, 450-capacity Grand Ballroom. “We have set room plans, or we can customize to your needs,” explains Stephanie Stoll, Majestic Oaks’ banquet and meeting sales manager, adding that small groups are welcome, too. “We have a smaller room off our restaurant for groups up to 40 people, which is perfect for board meetings or small gatherings.” The club also boasts a restaurant and an extensive on-site catering menu with options ranging from late-night snack spreads to vegan entrées to plated prime rib dinners. Spring 2016 golf tournaments are being booked now, with Majestic Oaks offering amenities such as registration tables, personalized cart signs, driving ranges, contests, staffed beverage carts, club rentals and golf clinics.
Blaine’s 25-year-old amateur sports facility the National Sports Center (which hosted the USA Cup in July), boasts 600 acres of indoor and outdoor sports facilities, and meeting and event spaces. That impressive footprint includes an 8,500-seat stadium, PGA Tour-designed public golf course, all-wood velodrome and the Schwan Super Rink—the largest ice arena complex in the world. Chief Communications Officer Barclay Kruse says that many of the events held at the Schwan Center are related to sports events (such as lessons, clinics and tournaments), which is part of the appeal for those who have participated in sporting events there before. “Many event attendees have played in NSC events over the years, and have fond memories of participating at the NSC in a different way,” Kruse says, adding that nonathletic, nonprofit, government and corporate events are also commonplace. The NSC’s 36,000-square-foot Schwan Center has eight meeting facilities ranging from 10-person conference suites to 250-capacity rooms with flexible floor plans and built-in sound systems, to the 18,000-square-foot Sport Expo Center—perfect for sports activities, assemblies, exhibitions or trade shows. As a bonus, on-site catering is available and many rooms have either access to, or a view of, the NSC’s lush green campus. “We have a high degree of flexibility with different size rooms,” Kruse says. “We also have access to outdoor spaces and playing fields, an ice arena, [and we] offer ample free parking.”
You might think of south of the cities when you think of racetracks, but Running Aces Casino and Racetrack in Columbus is fast becoming a destination for horse racing enthusiasts. The summer racing season is just the tip of the iceberg, though: Running Aces offers an eclectic mix of activities, including a casino, tavern and outdoor trout pond. Situated on the property that once housed Trout Air—a family trout-fishing and concert destination that was popular from the 1960s through the ’90s—Running Aces is paying tribute to its past with the new 60-capacity Trout Air Tavern, which features heirloom recipes from the original Trout Air restaurant, the Trout House. “We decided to bring back those memories everyone loved,” says Stacey Jensen, marketing events manager. In the summer months, groups from 24 to 150 can pick from three different outdoor racewatching and betting packages; in the offseason, the indoor, 4,100-square-foot Pacers Atrium is ideal for an action-packed game night, party or banquet for up to 450 people. Learning or wagered card games, A/V equipment and an extensive in-house catering menu are all available.