The popular Midwest meetings metro encompassing Omaha, Neb., and Council Bluffs, Iowa, features plenty of group-friendly amenities for a successful event, including facilities, activities and intriguing attractions that double as off-site venues.
Options cater to planners’ individual visions, allowing them to surround the gathering with, among other things, art, nature and history.
Following are eight splendid ideas.
Joslyn Art Museum
Joslyn Art Museum, Nebraska’s largest art museum and a standout cultural gem in Omaha for more than 80 years, is a unique venue for intimate or grander-scale gatherings of both the business and pleasure varieties, according to Amy Rummel, spokeswoman for the museum.
“It is impressive and exciting for a celebration, but also the perfect inspirational setting for a focused meeting or off-site retreat,” she says. “An event here is automatically surrounded by art from antiquity to the present and an ambience that cannot be beat.”
The building is made from 38 types of marble from seven countries, and inside there are more than 11,000 works of art from masters including Monet, Degas and Renoir.
“There are several spaces to choose from based upon your needs, each with a completely different look, feel and appeal,” Rummel says, citing a soaring glass atrium, a 1,000-seat concert hall and the Founder’s Room, a space encased entirely in wood with a central stained-glass window and fireplace.
“The surrounding sculpture gardens, reflecting pool, water walls and landscaping provide a beautiful entrance to your indoor event or serve as the perfect outdoor event setting,” Rummel says. “Even the smallest conference room features marble walls, bronze sculptures and prints of American Indians and American flora and fauna from the 1830s by Swiss artist Karl Bodmer.”
Situated overlooking the Missouri River Valley, Lauritzen Gardens blends uncommon natural beauty with exceptional amenities and service, according to Mia Jenkins, spokeswoman for the venue.
“The beautiful setting provides groups with the opportunity to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature and to find inspiration among the gardens’ 100 acres, all while enjoying a sophisticated event,” she says.
The 20 on-site gardens each feature distinguished collections of plants and art.
Event spaces at Lauritzen Gardens include the 320-person great hall, which boasts Colorado red sandstone and a parquet floor and opens onto a garden terrace with a view of the Missouri River; the floral display hall, with unmatched natural light and seasonal dramatic floral displays; and the 24-person community room, featuring Stickley furniture and a fireplace.
If desired, Jenkins adds, horticulture and education staff can put together garden-themed presentations and/or programs that are tailored to meet a group’s needs.
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
Little to no decor or entertainment is needed at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, where the gathering spaces are within world-class animal exhibits, according to Kelsie Sis, meeting and events manager at the attraction.
“You can dine with the sharks or overlook the world’s largest indoor rainforest for your next corporate event,” Sis says, adding that new in 2012 is the Education Conference Center, which features 5,302 square feet of banquet space. “But you don’t get four blank walls here—the room features a 24-foot tropical reef aquarium and a 75-foot modular arts wave wall.”
The zoo also offers an animal ambassador program.
“A zookeeper will bring a small mammal, reptile or tropical bird to your event, mingling with your guests and educating them about the animal and giving a conservation message,” Sis says. “Animal ambassadors allow your guests to get up close with some of our favorite residents.”
Sis adds that all-inclusive picnic packages, including zoo admission, one IMAX film, access to rides and a catered meal at a picnic pavilion, are available for groups of 40 to 3,000 people.
The Durham Museum
At the Durham Museum, also known as Omaha’s historic Union Station, the first Art Deco train station in the nation, groups can explore trains trackside and hop onboard the historic train car President Harry S. Truman used during press events.
According to Lori Beck, director of guest services at the museum, the venue offers a magnificent atmosphere featuring 65-foot ceilings, the beautiful restoration of the original architecture and a range of gathering spots that can suit virtually any business need, from evening receptions and catered breakfast meetings to teleconferences in a state-of-the art lecture hall.
“The elegance of the Swanson Gallery captures the mood for smaller gatherings, and the majestic features of the Suzanne and Walter Scott Great Hall are a perfect backdrop for large events and receptions,” she says.
The museum has an impressive traveling exhibit schedule as well as a permanent collection, including restored train cars, 1940s store fronts and the Byron Reed Collection, featuring some of the world’s rarest coins and documents.
Historic General Dodge House
The Historic General Dodge House, which accommodates groups of up to 60 people for a sit-down function, is a completely restored Victorian-era structure built in 1869.
According to its Kori Nelson, the venue’s executive director, the home was owned by the Dodge family until 1950 and became a National Historic Landmark in 1961.
“Dining room rentals are incredibly intimate and historic in nature, as guests can enjoy wine and cheese in the library, wander through the main floor rooms and then partake of a historic dinner in the Dodge family dining room,” she says. “And ballroom rentals take place on the third floor, allowing guests to wind their way up the spiral staircase.”
Whiskey Roadhouse, located in Horseshoe Casino, offers a casual decor that’s well-suited for both social and business events, according to Shari McCormick, sales manager for Harrah’s and Horseshoe Casino.
“We have on-site catering and an impeccable staff,” she says. “Event planners will work with our convention services manager, who is here to help with details, menu options and set up of the space. We offer live entertainment on Fridays and Saturdays as well.”
Whiskey Roadhouse also offers complimentary wireless Internet service as well as screens and projectors for presentation needs.
Since the venue is located in Horseshoe Casino, there is a variety of entertainment options for groups, from slots to live entertainment on the weekends.
“Not to mention our fine dining at Jack Binion’s Steakhouse,” McCormick says. “We do have on-site staff and we can offer private instructional gaming—poker, blackjack, craps—for groups to enjoy. It builds camaraderie among the participants and is a great time.”
Hitchcock Nature Center and the Loess
Conveniently located 20 minutes from the Council Bluffs and Omaha metro area, the Loess Hills Lodge at Hitchcock Nature Center enjoys a setting in the heart of the beautiful and globally significant Loess Hills, says Erin Kenney, community relations coordinator for Pottawattamie County Conservation.
On-site amenities include more than 10 miles of hiking trails, a hands-on exhibit gallery, an overlook deck, a 45-foot observation tower and two unique rental spaces for up to 70 people, the Goldfinch and Bluestem rooms.
“Both spaces offer scenic woodland and prairie views and allow for easy accessibility to the rest of the nature center,” Kenney says.
Planners might also inquire about nature programs such as hawk watching, which are offered for an additional fee on a seasonal basis.
According to Kenney, the Hitchcock Nature Center is the hawk highway of the Great Plains, and the World Wildlife Federation identified the Hitchcock Hawkwatch as one of the top 15 sites in North America to view birds of prey. It’s also one of only four hawk watches in the world starring 500-plus migrating bald eagles.
Located in Glenwood, Iowa, just 10 miles up the road from Council Bluffs, Bella Terre is a brand-new venue available for group events.
The facility features 9,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space, and audiovisual capabilities including a 50-inch screen and a stage.
According to the Council Bluffs CVB, Bella Terre was designed to provide an amazing atmosphere for receptions, special dinners and corporate meetings for up to 400 guests.
Carolyn Blackburn is a frequent contributor to Meetings Focus MidAmerica.